Mr Graham James Murphy

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW29383

Hearing Type: Review Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 15/07/2019 End: 17:00 15/07/2019

Location: Health and Care Professions Tribunal Service

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Struck off

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Allegation

Whilst working at the Flintshire County Council between 08 June 2016 and 07 September 2016 you:

 

1) Did not attend a core group meeting for service user A and her family on or around 07 September 2016

 

2) Between 08 June 2016 and 07 September 2016 you contacted service user A on your personal mobile phone without a work related reason for doing so

 

3) Sent inappropriate whatsapp messages to service user A stating the following or words to the effect of: a) "without being inappropriate it's a very nice pic of you" b) "have a nice night x" c) "thanks people wouldn't get that I'm being nice and just think it's inappropriate!! I should be able to tell you that you look ???? on your profile picture" d) "now you know I can't say that but it's a good compliment"

 

4) Did not attend core group meetings for Child 6 for the following days: a) 03 August 2016 b) 23 September 2016

 

5) Did not attend and/or rearrange a core group meeting for Child 7 originally due to take place on 14 July 2016

 

6) In relation to Child 8: a) Did not attend a core group meeting on 31 August 2016; and b) not proved

 

7) Did not attend core group meetings for Child 9 and Child 10 on 19 July 2016

 

8) Did not attend core group meetings for Child 11 on 01 August 2016

 

9) In relation to Child 12, Child 13, and Child 14, did not:

a) Attend the family home for a joint visit on 05 July 2016 b) Attend a core group meeting on 19 July 2016 c) Attend a core group meeting on 27 July 2016 d) Attend a core group meeting on 31 August 2016

 

10) Did not complete and/or record the following assessments: a) In the case of Child 9 and Child 10, Parenting assessment due by 01 August 2016 b) In the case of Child 11, Initial assessment due by 27 July 2016 c) In the case of Child 12, Child 13 and Child 14, Pre-Birth Risk assessment due by 5 August 2016 d) In the case of Child 1, Child 2, Child 3, Child 4 and Child 5, risk 2 assessment due by 27 July 2016 e) In the case of Child 15, Risk 2 assessment due by 01 August 2016 f) In the case of Child 16, Risk 2 assessment due by 01 August 2016 g) In the case of Child 6, Parenting assessment due by 02 August 2016 h) In the case of Child 8, Parenting assessment due by 3 August 2016 i) In the case of Child 17, Parenting Assessment due by 27 July 2016 j) In the case of Child 18, Pre-Birth Risk assessment due by 27 July 2016

 

11) The matters described in paragraphs 1 - 10 constitute misconduct and/or lack of competence.

 

12) By reason of that misconduct and/or lack of competence your fitness to practise is impaired.

 

 

Finding

Preliminary matters:

Service

1. The Hearing Officer provided the Panel with details of service of the Notice of Hearing and bundle upon the Registrant. The Presenting Officer confirmed that she had attempted to contact the Registrant in advance of the hearing by email and telephone, without success. However, neither the notice of hearing nor the bundle of documents sent to the Registrant had been returned to the HCPC, nor had the email sent to him been rejected as undeliverable.

2. The Panel had regard to the HCPTS practice note in relation to Service of Documents and received advice from the Legal Assessor. It was satisfied that the Registrant was notified of the date and time of the hearing via a letter dated 20 June 2019 (the “Notice of Hearing”) which was sent by first class post to his registered address, his alternate registered address and to his email address. Accordingly, the Panel found that the HCPC had discharged its duty to serve documentation on the Registrant in accordance with the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001 (“the Order”). Further, none of the communications had been returned as undeliverable.

Proceeding in Absence of the Registrant

3. The Presenting Officer submitted that it was in the public interest for the hearing to proceed in the absence of the Registrant. She outlined the chronology of the matter, noting that a substantive hearing took place on 23 – 25 July 2018, following which the panel imposed a Suspension Order, which is due to expire on 22 August 2019. The Presenting Officer invited the Panel to exercise its discretion to proceed with the case in the absence of the Registrant, stating that the Registrant appeared to have chosen not to engage with his regulator.

4. The Panel noted the provisions of the HCPTS practice note in respect of Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant. There had been no request for an adjournment received, nor any interest expressed by the Registrant in providing evidence via video or telephone link. The Registrant had not indicated any desire to be represented at the hearing, nor had he provided any reason for his failure to engage with his regulator in this matter. Included in the Notice of Hearing was confirmation that the hearing could proceed in the absence of the Registrant. He was therefore on notice that the hearing may proceed in his absence.

5.   The Panel was satisfied that it was appropriate for it to exercise its discretion to hear the matter in the absence of the Registrant. There was an expectation that regulatory matters would be dealt with expeditiously.  Although proceeding in absence may disadvantage the Registrant, it was satisfied that he was aware of the hearing (the Panel having already found that there had been good service in relation to the Notice of Hearing). It noted he had not engaged with the regulator at all from February 2018. There was no evidence to suggest that the Registrant would attend or even engage in the event that the matter was adjourned to an alternative date. The Panel considered that the public interest in proceeding with the hearing outweighed any potential prejudice which may be suffered by the Registrant. It was satisfied that the Registrant had voluntarily absented himself from the proceedings without making representations.

Proceeding in Private

6.    The Presenting Officer applied to have part of the hearing conducted in private, insofar as she wished to make reference to a communication received from the Registrant which she considered to be likely to be of assistance to the Panel.

7.   The Panel considered whether it was appropriate for it to receive evidence that related to the Registrant’s private life in private. It had regard to the HCPTS Practice Note in relation to “Proceeding in Private” and was conscious that, while there is a presumption that proceedings will be in public, it was obliged to ensure the interests of justice were served, and that the private life of the Registrant was protected.

8.   The Panel determined that it would be inappropriate to refer to the private life of the Registrant in public. Accordingly, evidence in relation to the Registrant’s life would be heard in private to protect his privacy but all other matters would be heard in public.


Background:

9. The Registrant was employed by Flintshire County Council (“the Council”) for three months from 8 June 2016 as a Level 3 Agency Social Worker. 

10. During the course of his employment, concerns were raised with the Council as to the Registrant’s relationship with Service User A and his failure to attend a Core Group Meeting. It was alleged that the Registrant had crossed professional boundaries with that service user via social media.  Other concerns subsequently arose in relation to the Registrant’s practice in that he failed to attend a number of Core Group Meetings and to complete assessments in a timely manner respect of a number of children.   

11. The Council summarily dismissed the Registrant from its employ in September 2016 following a disciplinary investigation.

12. Following a hearing of the Conduct and Competence Committee on 23 – 25 July 2018, which was not attended by the Registrant or a representative acting on his behalf, a number of particulars alleged were held to be well-founded as set out above, and the Registrant’s fitness to practise was assessed as being impaired on both the personal and public components. A Suspension Order was imposed by the Panel, of which this is the first mandatory review.  The Panel also indicated that a reviewing panel may be assisted by:


-   the Registrant’s attendance;

-   A reflective piece regarding the impact of his actions on service users, colleagues and on the reputation of the profession;
 Any relevant medical evidence;
-  Any relevant character references or testimonials, including any paid or unpaid work since 2016;
-  Any evidence of continuing professional development

13. As well as being provided with the bundle of documents submitted by the HCPC for the review hearing, the Registrant was contacted by the HCPC on a number of occasions in advance of the review hearing, but no response was received.

Decision:
 
14. The Presenting Officer confirmed that the task of the reviewing panel was to determine whether the Registrant’s fitness to practice remains impaired. If so, the full range of sanctions was available to the Panel when determining what, if any, sanction is appropriate. The Panel could not go behind the original findings in relation to the allegation but were tasked with assessing the level of impairment of the Registrant. She invited the Panel to consider whether, on the information available to it, the Registrant is fit to practise and determine what, if any, sanction is appropriate. The HCPC’s position was that a Striking Off Order could be appropriate given the lack of engagement by the Registrant. There was no further evidence of insight or remediation as the Registrant had not engaged in the regulatory process. In the event that the Panel did not find that a Striking Off Order was appropriate, the Presenting Officer submitted that the most appropriate Order would be a Suspension Order given that it wou ld not be possible to formulate proportionate and workable Conditions of Practice to address the risk posed to the public if the Registrant returned to practice.

15. The Panel listened carefully to the submissions made by the Presenting Officer, and considered all of the documentation provided to it. It accepted and applied the advice of the Legal Assessor in relation to the proper approach to determining this matter. It also had regard to the policies adopted by HCPC in relation to the approach to take to Fitness to Practice proceedings. It also noted and applied the following practice notes adopted by HCPTS:


a) Review of Article 30 Sanction Orders;
b) Unrepresented Registrants;
c) Finding that Fitness to Practice is Impaired;
d) Drafting Decisions.

And the following documents adopted by the HCPC:

e) Standards of Proficiency for Social Workers;
f) Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics;
g) Sanctions Policy.

16. The review process centres around consideration as to whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise remains impaired and if so, whether the existing order or another order needs to be in place to protect the public. A key issue which needs to be addressed is what, if anything, has changed since the current order was imposed.  The factors to be taken into account include:

a) the steps which the Registrant has taken to address any specific failings or other issues identified in the previous decision;
b) the degree of insight shown and whether this has changed;
c) the steps which the Registrant has taken to maintain or improve his professional knowledge and skills;
d) whether any other fitness to practise issues have arisen;
e) whether the Registrant has complied with the existing order.


17. The Panel reminded itself that Suspension Orders are imposed only when there is either a serious and on-going risk to service users or the public from the Registrant’s lack of professional knowledge or skills, conduct or unmanaged health problems, or the allegation is so serious that public confidence in the profession or the regulatory process would be seriously harmed if the Registrant was allowed to remain in practice. It noted that the hearing panel had found “the messages sent to Service User A were an abuse of trust and a breach of professional boundaries in respect of a vulnerable service user” and that this particular alone amounted to “behaviour which falls far below what would be proper in the circumstances and amounts to misconduct”. Further, it found “The Registrant’s repeated and unexplained failure to attend Core Group Meetings, and to complete and record assessments were serious. The evidence was that the Registrant completed only 10% of his work”. The Registrant had demonstrated limited in sight and not offered any evidence of remediation, though the panel considered that the misconduct was remediable. It concluded that “the Registrant  has in the past, and is liable in the future, to bring the profession in to disrepute and to breach fundamental tenets of his profession”.


18. The Panel was obliged to consider whether the concerns summarised above, which led to a finding of impairment at a hearing in July 2018, remain. As the decision in Abrahaem v GMC [2008] EWHC 183 (Admin) indicates, in practical terms this places a “persuasive burden” on the Registrant to demonstrate at a review hearing that he has fully acknowledged the issues which led to the original finding and has addressed them sufficiently “through insight, application, education, supervision or other achievement...”. The Panel had been provided with the Registrant’s last communication with the HCPC, dated 21 February 2018, and noted that his confirmation that he had no plans to maintain his registration as he had no intention of working in the profession again.


19. The Panel concluded that there is no evidence that the risks identified by the previous panel considering this matter have decreased. The Registrant submitted limited information to the HCPC in advance of the substantive hearing but was neither present nor represented. He had not provided any information for consideration during the Review, despite the previous panel setting out in detail the information which could assist a reviewing panel. The last communication from the Registrant indicated that he faced significant personal issues and that he had no intention of practising as a registered social worker as a result. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant’s fitness to practice remained impaired.

20. The Panel reminded itself that when reviewing sanctions under Article 30 of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001 (the Order), the Reviewing Panel may:


 a)  confirm the order; 
 b)  extend, or further extend, the duration of the order;  
 c)  reduce the duration of the order;
 d)  replace the order with any other order which the Panel could have made (to run for the remaining term of the original order); or
 e) revoke the order or revoke or vary any condition imposed by it.

21. The decision reached by the Panel must be proportionate, striking a fair balance between interfering with the Registrant’s ability to practise and the overarching objective of public protection. Of particular relevance to the Panel is whether the concerns raised in the original finding of impairment had been sufficiently addressed, with the burden on the Registrant to demonstrate that he has fully acknowledged the deficiencies which led to the original finding and has addressed that impairment sufficiently. In making its decision the Panel was required to take account of the wider public interest, which includes: 

 a)  the deterrent effect to other registrants; 
 b) public confidence in the profession concerned; and  
 c) public confidence in the regulatory process.

It was also mindful of the fact that no registrant should resume unrestricted practice until it is safe and appropriate for them to do so.

22.     Having conducted an assessment of impairment, the Panel went on to consider what, if any, Order was appropriate in the circumstances to manage the risks identified in this matter. It was satisfied that an Order was still necessary and proportionate with regard to the protection of the public and in the wider public interest. It would therefore not be appropriate to impose no Order or issue a Caution. Given the lack of engagement by the Registrant, his expressed desire to leave the profession and the absence of any evidence of remediation of the failings identified, the Panel did not consider it appropriate to impose a conditions of practise order.

23.  Given the complete lack of engagement in the regulatory process by the Registrant since February 2018 the Panel reluctantly concluded that it was inappropriate to maintain the Registrant in a cycle of mandatory reviews. Although a Suspension Order had been appropriate initially to try to facilitate the Registrant’s return to the profession, given that the substantive hearing determined that the misconduct was serious but capable of being remediated, the Registrant’s total lack of engagement in the process since then and his expressed desire to leave the profession, meant that it was now inappropriate to maintain him in the review process, and it was in the interest of the Registrant, the public and the profession for the Registrant to be struck off. The Panel had regard to the consequential impact a Striking Off Order may have on the Registrant but concluded that his interests were outweighed by the Panel’s duty to give priority to the public interest and maintain confidence in the regulator. It was satisfied that no lesser sanction order would be appropriate in the particular circumstances of this case.

24.   The Panel decided that the appropriate and proportionate order is a Striking Off Order.

Order

The Registrar is directed to strike the name of Mr Graham James Murphy from the register on the date this order comes into effect.

Notes

The order imposed today will apply from 22 August 2019.

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Mr Graham James Murphy

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
15/07/2019 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing Struck off
23/07/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended