Miss Wendy Ann Duffy

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW10510

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 01/07/2019 End: 17:00 04/07/2019

Location: Health and Care Professions Tribunal Service, 405 Kennington Road, London, SE11 4PT

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Suspended

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Allegation

(As amended at the final hearing commencing 1 July 2019).

Whilst registered as a Social Worker with the Health and Care Professions Council:

1) On or about 23.02.18, you attended a statutory visit to a Looked After Child after consuming alcohol.

2) On 20.10.17, you were convicted at Greater Manchester Magistrates' Court of driving a motor vehicle after consuming so much alcohol that the proportion of it in your breath, namely 140 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath, exceeded the prescribed limit. Contrary to Section 5(1)(a) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 and Schedule 2 to 1988.

3) You did not inform the HCPC of your conviction.

4) Your actions as described in paragraph 3 were dishonest.

5) The matters set out at paragraphs 1 and 3 – 4 amount to misconduct.

6) By reason of your conviction and / or your misconduct, your fitness to practice is impaired.

Finding

Preliminary Matters

Application to Amend the Allegation

1. At the outset of the hearing Ms Mond-Wedd applied to amend the Allegation as set out in the letter dated 23 January 2019 which had been sent to the Registrant. She submitted that the proposed amendments better particularised the Allegation. In addition, Ms Mond-Wedd applied to amend Particular 6 to include the words ‘/ or’.

2. The Registrant did not oppose the proposed amendments.

3. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel was satisfied that it could make the amendments fairly and without prejudice to the Registrant. The amendments were by way of typographical correction and better particularisation of the background.

Hearing in Private

4. Ms Mond Wedd and the Registrant jointly applied to the Panel that where matters of health were being discussed, it would be preferable for the Panel to go into private session. The Panel acceded to this application, it being in the interest of justice and also to preserve aspects of the Registrant’s private life that such evidence be heard in private.

Admissions

5. The Registrant admitted Particulars 1, 2 and 3 but did not accept that her actions in respect of Particular 3 were dishonest.


Background

6. The Registrant, Miss Duffy, was employed as a Social Worker on a locum basis by Dorset County Council from 7 March 2017 to 6 March 2018.

7. On 20 October 2017, the Registrant was convicted of drink-driving at Greater Manchester Magistrates’ Court. Her breathalyser reading was 140 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath, the legal limit being 35 microgrammes per 100 millilitres of breath. She received a sentence of 12 weeks’ imprisonment suspended for 12 months with a rehabilitation activity requirement and an unpaid work requirement of 100 hours. The Registrant was also disqualified from driving for 36 months.

8. It is alleged that the Registrant did not inform the HCPC of her conviction as required by Standard 9.5 of the HCPC “Standards of conduct, performance and ethics” (2016).

9. On 23 February 2018, the Registrant attended the foster placement of Child 1 in her capacity as the child’s Social Worker. On 27 February 2018, SL also attended the placement in her capacity as the foster carers’ Social Worker. During the visit, Foster Carer 1 disclosed to SL concerns regarding the Registrant’s behaviour during the visit on 23 February 2018. This included a concern that the Registrant had smelled of alcohol.

10. SL reported Foster Carer 1’s concerns to her Line Manager, RM. The incident was subsequently brought to the attention of NSM, the Registrant’s Line Manager, and JW, Operational Manager for the 0-12 Care and Support team. JW gathered further information regarding the incident. She spoke to Foster Carer 1 on 28 February 2018 and the Registrant on 5 March 2018.

11. On 6 March 2018, NSM met with the Registrant at her home. The Registrant advised NSM that she had met a friend in the pub and drank a glass of wine before visiting the foster placement. NSM informed the Registrant that her locum employment contract with Dorset County Council would be terminated.

12. The Panel considered the evidence of NSM, JW, and SL to be balanced, objective and credible.

13. The Registrant did her best to assist the Panel and provided a credible account of the circumstances that led to the Allegation.


Decision on Facts

14. The Panel heard evidence from NSM, JW and SL. The Panel also considered the documentary material before it, submitted by the HCPC and the Registrant, which included the exhibits bundle.

15. The Panel heard evidence from the Registrant. She explained the background to her drink driving conviction. She accepted the conviction and took responsibility for her actions, but highlighted the background circumstances. In respect of Particular 1, she stated that she had consumed one glass of wine prior to attending the statutory visit. She accepted that she should never have done so. In respect of Particular 4, she maintained that she was not dishonest and was under the impression that her employer would inform the HCPC. She highlighted to the Panel the steps that she has taken to reduce the risk of any recurrence, giving examples of what she had learnt at the drink driving rehabilitation course. She gave details of her plan to move location to start afresh in circumstances which would provide her with more support. She highlighted her strategies for dealing with stressful situations. She stated that she would not consume alcohol at work in the future and would not drive after consuming any alcohol.

16. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel noted that the burden of proving each fact is on the HCPC, to the civil standard of a balance of probabilities.

Particular 1 – Admitted and Found Proved

Whilst registered as a Social Worker with the Health and Care Professions Council:

1) On or about 23.02.18, you attended a statutory visit to a Looked After Child after consuming alcohol.

17. The Panel noted the evidence of SL who spoke to the foster carers of Child 1. Their account to her was that they believed the Registrant had smelled of alcohol when she visited. The Registrant denied this and gave detailed evidence as to why this would not have been likely. However, the Registrant did admit that she had had one glass of wine with a colleague over lunch. On this basis, the Panel found this particular proved.

Particular 2 – Admitted and Found Proved

2) On 20.10.17, you were convicted at Greater Manchester Magistrates' Court of driving a motor vehicle after consuming so much alcohol that the proportion of it in your breath, namely 140 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath, exceeded the prescribed limit. Contrary to Section 5(1)(a) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 and Schedule 2 to 1988.

18. The Panel had regard to the memorandum of conviction. The Panel was satisfied that this was a certified true copy from the relevant Magistrates’ Court. The Registrant accepted that the conviction related to her and in these circumstances the Panel found this particular proved.

Particular 3 – Admitted and Found Proved

3) You did not inform the HCPC of your conviction.

19. The Panel had regard to witness statement of SY of the HCPC who confirmed that the Registrant did not declare to the HCPC that she had received a conviction on 20 October 2017. The Panel noted that the Registrant accepted that this was indeed the case. In the circumstances, the Panel found this particular proved.

Particular 4 – Found Not Proved

4) Your actions as described in paragraph 3 were dishonest.

20. The Panel had regard to the contemporaneous note prepared by the Registrant’s previous Line Manager, EM on 30 October 2017. In this note it is stated that EM advised the Registrant that she needed to inform the HCPC of her conviction. However, the Registrant maintained that she had a genuine belief, from the whole of the discussion with EM that her employer would inform the HCPC. The Panel noted that the Registrant was an experienced Social Worker of many years’ standing and should have known that she ought to inform the HCPC of her conviction. On balance, the Panel does not believe her failure to inform the HCPC was dishonest, particularly in the light of her difficult personal circumstances at the time.


Decision on Grounds

21. The Panel next considered whether the matters found proved, as set out above, amount to the statutory grounds of misconduct and / or conviction.

22. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel is in no doubt that the Registrant’s conduct in visiting Child 1 having consumed alcohol over lunch time would be regarded as deplorable by fellow practitioners. The Panel concluded that the Registrant’s conduct amounted to a serious departure from the standards expected of a registered social worker.

23. In respect of the criminal conviction, the Panel noted that this was a serious conviction where the Registrant was four times over the legal drink drive limit and for which she received a custodial sentence, albeit suspended. An aggravating feature of the conviction was that the Registrant had her child in the vehicle with her at the material time and drove through a red light.


Decision on Impairment

24. The Panel had regard to the HCPTS Practice Note on “Finding that Fitness to Practise is “Impaired””, and in particular the personal component and the public component. It heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

25. The HCPC submitted that the Registrant was impaired in both the personal and public components at the time of the incidents and currently. The Registrant accepted that she was impaired at the time of the incidents but denied current impairment.

26. In respect of the personal component, the Panel was satisfied that the Registrant had demonstrated substantial insight into the effects of alcohol on her ability to drive. She also demonstrated insight as to why she should not have attended the house of Child 1 having consumed alcohol. She gave specific examples of the potential impact on children, foster carers and the reputation of her employer and the social work profession. Accordingly, the Registrant demonstrated an awareness of the relevant professional principles in her evidence to the Panel and she displayed a good recognition of why such conduct could pose a risk in the workplace. The Registrant also explained that she was in a highly emotional state after her lunchtime break and on reflection should have cancelled the visit. The Panel determined that any risk of repetition was minimal in the particular circumstances.

27. The Registrant expressed her regret at not having personally informed the HCPC of her conviction. She also accepted that she should have made sure that her employer did so. The Panel accepted that the Registrant had many years of unblemished service as a Social Worker and considered her failure to inform the HCPC to be an isolated, albeit serious omission on the part of the Registrant.

28. The Panel went on to consider the public component.

29. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant’s actions and omission would undermine the public’s confidence in the reputation of the profession. It would also undermine confidence in the regulator if a finding of impairment were not made. Vulnerable service users expect their social workers to adhere to the relevant professional standards. In this case the most relevant standards where the Registrant’s actions and omissions fell short were:

Standards of proficiency for Social Workers

“2 be able to practise within the legal and ethical boundaries of their profession

2.2 understand the need to promote the best interests of service users and carers at all times

2.10 understand what is required of them by the Health and Care Professions Council

3 be able to maintain fitness to practise

3.1 understand the need to maintain high standards of personal and professional conduct”

 HCPC Standards of conduct, performance and ethics

“9 Be honest and trustworthy

9.1 You must make sure that your conduct justifies the public’s trust and confidence in you and your profession.

9.5 You must tell us as soon as possible if…you accept a caution from the police or you have been charged with, or found guilty of, a criminal offence.”

30. Furthermore, the Panel was satisfied that the Registrant’s criminal conviction would undermine public confidence in the profession and the need to declare and uphold proper standards. The Panel was satisfied that public confidence would be undermined if a finding of impairment was not made in this case.

31. The Panel concluded that the Registrant was impaired at the time of the incidents and remains impaired on the public component, but not on the personal component.


Decision on Sanction 

32. Having determined that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired by reason of her misconduct and conviction, the Panel went on to consider what sanction, if any, to impose on her registration.

33. The Panel took into account the submissions of Ms Mond-Wedd, on behalf of the HCPC, and those made by the Registrant. The Registrant recognised that it would not be appropriate for her to return to work as a Social Worker until her driving ban had expired.

34. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. It had regard to the HCPC “Indicative Sanctions Policy” and considered the sanctions in ascending order of seriousness. The Panel bore in mind the principle of proportionality, which is to do no more than is necessary in the given circumstances. The Panel noted that the purpose of a sanction is not to be punitive, but is to protect members of the public and the wider public interest. This includes upholding standards within the profession as well as maintaining public confidence in the regulatory process.

35. The Panel considered the following to be aggravating features:

• Visiting a vulnerable service user, who was a child, having consumed alcohol.

• A conviction which resulted in a custodial sentence, albeit suspended, which reflected the fact she was four times over the legal drink drive limit, she had a child in her car and had gone through a red light.

• The Registrant is an experienced Social Worker who should have recognised her duty to inform her regulator of her conviction.

36. The Panel considered the following to be significant mitigating factors:

• The Registrant has engaged with the regulatory process.

• The Registrant made early admissions to many of the particulars and demonstrated remorse and regret at her actions.

• The Registrant had a previously unblemished carer as a Social Worker.

37. The Panel first considered whether any sanction was necessary. Given its finding in respect of the public component of impairment, the Panel did not consider this was a case where it was appropriate to take no action. Some form of sanction was necessary to maintain public confidence in the profession and to declare and uphold proper standards of conduct and behaviour.

38. For the same reasons, the Panel concluded that this was not an appropriate case for mediation.

39. The Panel did not consider that a Caution Order would satisfy the public interest. The actions of the Registrant amounted to a serious departure from the relevant standards and a Caution Order would not sufficiently protect the reputation of the profession and maintain public confidence in the regulatory process. Furthermore, it would not have a sufficiently deterrent effect on other registrants.

40. Turning next to a Conditions of Practice Order, the Panel was satisfied that such an order would not be workable in light of its finding in respect of the public component of impairment. The Registrant would be expected to abide by the relevant legislation and professional standards in any event.

41. The Panel then turned to whether a Suspension Order would be appropriate and proportionate. The Panel was satisfied that in this case, a Suspension Order for a period of six months would be the proportionate outcome. Such an order would maintain public confidence in the profession and in the regulatory process as well as having a deterrent effect upon the Registrant and the profession as a whole.

42. The Panel did not consider a Striking Off Order as appropriate or proportionate in this case for two reasons. Firstly, that whilst the incidents are of a serious nature they are unlikely to be repeated, and secondly it accepted the Registrant’s insight and remorse into these matters.

43. The Suspension Order will be reviewed prior to its expiry. In light of the fact that the Panel has found no personal impairment or ongoing current risk, the Panel makes no specific recommendations of the Registrant prior to the review hearing.

Order

The Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Miss Wendy Ann Duffy for a period of 6 months from the date this Order comes into effect.

Notes

Interim Order

The Panel makes an Interim Suspension Order under Article 31(2) of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001, the same being necessary to protect members of the public and being otherwise in the public interest. 

This Order will expire: (if no appeal is made against the Panel’s decision and Order) upon the expiry of the period during which such an appeal could be made; (if an appeal is made against the Panel’s decision and Order) the final determination of that appeal, subject to a maximum period of 18 months.

1. Ms Mond-Wedd, on behalf of the HCPC, made an application for an Interim Suspension Order for the maximum period of 18 months. She submitted that an Interim Suspension Order was necessary for the protection of the public and was otherwise in the public interest as if such an order were not made the Registrant could return to unrestricted practise, pending the outcome of any appeal.

2. The Registrant submitted that whilst she would prefer no interim order was imposed, she understood the public interest factors the Panel had to consider.

3. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and had regard to the HCPTS Practice Note on “Interim Orders”.

4. The Panel considered whether an interim order was necessary to protect the public and or was otherwise in the wider public interest. In light of the Panel’s findings on impairment, the Panel was satisfied that it was not necessary to make an interim order to protect the public. However, were the Registrant to appeal the wider public interest would not be adequately addressed because allowing the Registrant to work unrestricted during any appeal period would not maintain public confidence in the profession and in the regulatory process.

5. In the circumstances, the Panel determined that an Interim Suspension Order for a period of 18 months was appropriate and in deciding to impose this length the Panel noted that if the Registrant were to appeal the appeal could take a considerable period of time.

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Miss Wendy Ann Duffy

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
13/11/2019 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing Hearing has not yet been held
01/07/2019 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended