Mrs Laura Boyce

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW107644

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 17/07/2019 End: 17:00 23/07/2019

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

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Struck off

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Allegation

(as amended by the Panel of the Conduct and Competence Committee on 17 July 2019):

Between February and September 2017, whilst registered as a Social Worker and during the course of your employment by Hampshire County Council you:

1) In relation to the case of Child A:

a) advised the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) of the Children Looked After (CLA) review that you had visited Child A on two occasions since 16 March 2017, when this was not the case.

b) recorded that you had visited Child A on the following occasions, when this was not the case:

i. 13 April 2017
ii. 4 August 2017

c) did not attend the statutory review for Child A on 6 September 2017.

2) In relation to the case of Children B, recorded that you had visited the children on the following dates when this was not the case:

a) 25 August 2017

b) 7 September 2017

3) In relation to the case of Child E:

a) recorded that you had visited Child E on the following dates when this was not the case:

i. 28 July 2017
ii. 25 August 2017

b) Did not complete a full record of your visit to Child E on 4 May 2017

4) In relation to the case of Child F, recorded that you had visited him/her on 6 September 2017 when this was not in fact the case.

5) In relation to Child I, recorded that you had visited him/ her on 25 August 2017 when this was not the case.

6) In relation to the case of Children J:

a) recorded that you had visited the children on 10 July 2017, when this was not the case;

b) did not make a record of your visit with Children J on 19 July 2017;

c) did not provide Children J’s foster carers with key information about Children J.

7) Did not complete and/ or record visits within the required timescales, in respect of:

a) Children D

b) Child H

c) Child I

d) Children K

e) Child E

8) Your actions described at paragraphs 1a and b, 2, 3a, 4, 5 and/or 6a were dishonest.

9) The matters described in paragraphs 1, 2, 3a, 4, 5 and/ or 6 constitute misconduct

10) The matters described in paragraphs 3b and/ or 7 constitute misconduct and/or lack of competence.

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

Finding

Preliminary Matters:

1. Mrs Laura Boyce (“the Registrant”) is registered with the HCPC as a Social Worker. The Registrant did not attend the hearing and was not represented.

Service

2. The Panel was satisfied that notice of the hearing was sent to the Registrant at her address as it appeared in the register on 4 April 2019. The notice contained the date, time and venue of today’s hearing. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and is satisfied that notice of today’s hearing has been served in accordance with Rule 6(1) of The Health and Care Professions Council (Conduct and Competence Committee) Rules 2003.

Proceeding in the absence of the Registrant

3. On behalf of the HCPC, Ms Sheridan asked the Panel to proceed in the absence of the Registrant. The Registrant had sent an email on 21 March 2019 stating that she would not be attending the hearing. She did not request an adjournment. Ms Sheridan submitted that the Registrant was clearly aware of the hearing, had voluntarily decided not to attend, and that no useful purpose would be served by an adjournment.

4. The Legal Assessor drew the Panel’s attention to the guidance provided in the HCPTS Practice Note “Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant”. The Panel was advised that it is competent to proceed in the absence of a Registrant. However, the decision on whether that is appropriate in any individual case is a matter of discretionary judgment for the Panel.

5. The Panel took into account the advice of the Legal Assessor and the guidance provided in the relevant Practice Note. The Panel was satisfied that all reasonable steps had been taken to serve notice of the hearing on the Registrant. The Registrant was clearly aware of the hearing given the terms of her email provided to the Panel. The Registrant had voluntarily decided not to attend. She has not requested an adjournment of the hearing. There is a public interest in the substantive hearing being determined. The Panel therefore concluded that it is appropriate to proceed in the absence of the Registrant. The Panel accepted that the Registrant would be disadvantaged to some degree by her absence but concluded, on balance, that the wider public interests meant that the hearing should continue in the absence of the Registrant.

Amendment of the Allegation

6. At the commencement of the hearing, Ms Sheridan applied to amend the Particulars of the Allegation.

7. By letter dated 15 March 2019, the Registrant had been informed that such an application would be made. The proposed amendments set out in the letter were intended to tidy up some minor errors and to better reflect the evidence. The most substantive proposal was to delete the original Particular 7 (a).

8. In addition to the proposed amendments set out in the letter dated 15 March 2019, Ms Sheridan proposed further amendments at the hearing. These were: (i) to delete one of the dates in Particular 6 (a), (ii) in Particular 8 to restrict the reference to paragraph 1 to paragraph 1 (a) and (b) only, (iii) in Particular 8 to restrict the reference to paragraph 6 to 6 (a) only, and (iv) in Particular 8 to add a reference to original paragraph 7 (e).

9. Ms Sheridan submitted that the proposed amendments were intended to better reflect the evidence and provide anonymity to the children involved. Most of the proposed amendments were relatively minor and were favourable to Registrant. Ms Sheridan recognised that the proposal to widen the allegation of dishonesty in Particular 8, to include reference to paragraph 7 (e), was more substantial than the other proposed amendments and the Registrant had not had notice of that proposed amendment.

10. The Panel followed the advice of the Legal Assessor and asked itself whether, if the amendments were allowed, they would result in prejudice to the Registrant. The amendments, with the exception of the proposed amendment to extend the ambit of Particular 8 regarding dishonesty, were all of a relatively minor nature. The Registrant had been provided with advance notice that an application to amend would be made which covered the majority of the proposed amendments. She has been given a proper opportunity of preparing her defence to the Allegation as amended with the exception of the proposed extension of particular 8. The Panel considered that no material prejudice to the Registrant would arise from allowing the proposed amendments with the exception of the proposal to widen the ambit of Particular 8. The Panel considered that it would be inappropriate to widen the ambit of Particular 8 to include reference to paragraph 7 (e). Particular 8 concerns dishonesty. The Registrant has not had advanced notice of the proposal to extend this allegation and the Panel considers that there would be real prejudice to the Registrant if that amendment was allowed. Accordingly, that part of the application to amend was refused.

Background:

11. The Registrant was employed as a locum Social Worker by Hampshire County Council in its Children’s Services Department from February 2017 until August 2017. She was then employed as an Assistant Team Manager in the Children’s Assessment Safeguarding Team from August 2017 to 18 September 2017.

12. The HCPC relied on witness statements of WDB and LW. Each of these individuals attended the hearing and provided oral evidence.

13. The HCPC also provided redacted copies of emails dated 21 March 2019 and 28 November 2018 from the Registrant to the Health and Care Professions Tribunal Service. These contain some information in relation to the Registrant’s position.

Decision on Facts:

14. The Panel considered with care all the evidence presented, together with the submissions made by Ms Sheridan on behalf of the HCPC. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and bore in mind that it was for the HCPC to prove its case and to do so on the balance of probabilities.

Credibility and Reliability of the Witnesses

15. The Panel found WDB to be a credible witness. There were some gaps in her knowledge and memory. However, she gave clear evidence in relation to the matters within her knowledge.

16. The Panel found LW to be a credible and reliable witness. She gave her evidence in a clear and measured way.

The Particulars of the Allegation

17. The Panel notes that in the email of 21 March 2019 from the Registrant to the Health and Care Professions Tribunal Service, the Registrant stated that:

“I have read and absorbed the allegations and in the most accept full responsibility for my actions”.
The Registrant acknowledged that she had made “poor choices and decision making”.

18. Notwithstanding the terms of the email, the Panel proceeded on the basis that the onus is on the HCPC to prove each of the Particulars.

19. The Panel considered each Particular in turn.

Particular 1

20. The Particular concerns the case of Child A and, specifically, statements made and recorded by the Registrant in relation to alleged visits to Child A.


21. In relation to Particular 1 (a), the Panel finds that the Registrant advised the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) of the Children Looked After (CLA) review that she had visited Child A on two occasions since 16 March 2017, when this was not the case.

22. The Registrant completed a Care Plan for the Statutory Review Period dated 4 September 2017 in which she stated that two visits to Child A had taken place since the last review on 16 March 2017. She recorded that Child A “had been seen alone” during those visits.

23. LW was the IRO. She confirmed in her witness statement, and in her oral evidence, that on the day of the review hearing, she had spoken to Child A before the review began and Child A told her that they had not received any visits from a social worker since the review hearing in March 2017. The residential care worker that was accompanying Child A confirmed to LW that no such visits had taken place.

24. The Panel accepted the evidence of LW as credible and reliable. The Panel finds that the Registrant advised the IRO of the CLA that she had visited Child A on two occasions when this was not the case.

25. In relation to Particular 1 (b), the Panel finds that the Registrant recorded that she had visited Child A on 13 April 2017 and 4 August 2017, when this was not the case.

26. The Registrant made a record of a Statutory Visit with Child A on 13 April 2017. The “Statutory Visiting Form” recording the alleged visit was provided to the Panel. No document was available to the Panel in relation to the visit on 4 August 2017. However, WDB confirmed in her evidence to the Panel that she had seen a record of an alleged visit by the Registrant taking place on 4 August 2017. WDB stated in her witness statement, and in her oral evidence, that the Registrant had admitted to her that she had not visited Child A on either 13 April 2017 or 4 August 2017. The Registrant told WDB that the erroneous recordings of visits were an “oversight”. The Panel accepted WDB’s evidence as credible and reliable.

27. In relation to Particular 1 (c), the Panel finds that the Registrant did not attend the statutory review for Child A on 6 September 2017. LW and WDB stated in their witness statements, and in their oral evidence, that the Registrant was not present at the review on 6 September 2017. The Panel accepted their evidence on this issue as credible and reliable.

Particular 2

28. The Panel finds that, in the case of Children B, the Registrant recorded that she had visited the children on 25 August and 7 September 2017 when this was not the case.

29. The Registrant made records for visits that had allegedly taken place on 25 August 2017 and 7 September 2017. The records were available to the Panel. WDB confirmed that Children B’s mother had been contacted during an audit conducted by Hampshire County Council and she confirmed that the children had not seen a social worker in the period from 25 August 2017 to 7 September 2017. The Registrant’s record for the visit on 25 August 2017 states that it was undertaken at the children’s school. The audit report records that the head teacher of the school was contacted and he confirmed that no such visit had taken place at the school. The Panel finds that the Registrant recorded that she visited the children on 25 August and 7 September 2017 when, in fact, no such visits had taken place.

Particular 3

30. In relation to Particular 3 (a), the Panel finds that, in the case of Child E, the Registrant recorded that she had visited Child E on 28 July 2017 and 25 August 2017 when this was not the case.

31. The Registrant created records which state that she visited Child E on both 28 July 2017 and 25 August 2017. The records the Registrant completed in relation to the alleged visits were available to the Panel. WDB confirmed that Child E’s mother had called her to inform her that Child E had not been seen by a social worker throughout the 6 week school holiday period. WDB had asked Child E’s mother whether the Registrant had visited Child E on either 28 July 2017 or 25 August 2017. Child E’s mother confirmed that no such visits had taken place. On the basis of the available material, the Panel finds, on the balance of probabilities, that the Registrant recorded that she had visited Child E on 28 July 2017 and 25 August 2017 when no such visits had taken place.

32. In relation to Particular 3 (b), the Panel finds that the Registrant did not complete a full record of her visit to Child E on 4 May 2017. The record made by the Registrant states that the children had both been seen by her. The record states “Full write up to follow”. No details of the visit are contained within the records of Hampshire County Council. An audit was conducted by Hampshire County Council and no further write up or details of the visit was discovered. The Panel finds that a full record of the visit was not made by the Registrant.

Particular 4

33. The Panel finds in relation to the case of Child F, that the Registrant recorded she had visited him/her on 6 September 2017 when this was not in fact the case. The record, which was available to the Panel, states that a visit took place on 6 September 2017 at Child F’s school. WDB contacted Child F’s mother who stated that Child F did not attend school on 6 September 2017. On the basis of the available evidence, the Panel finds that Child F was not in school on 6 September 2017 and that, contrary to the record made by the Registrant, no visit took place with Child F on 6 September 2017.

Particular 5

34. The Panel finds that, in relation to Child I, the Registrant recorded that she had visited him/ her on 25 August 2017 when this was not the case. The record made by the Registrant states that a home visit took place on 25 August 2017 and that the child was seen alone. WBW contacted Child I’s mother who confirmed that Child I had not been seen by a social worker throughout the 6 week school holiday period. Child I’s mother confirmed to WBD that no visit took place on 6 September 2017. The Panel accepts the evidence of WBD as credible and reliable.

Particular 6

35. In relation to Particular 6 (a), the Panel does not accept that, in relation to Children J, the Registrant recorded that she had visited the child on 10 July 2017, when this was not the case. The only evidence available to the Panel on this issue was provided by WDB. She confirmed that she had checked with the school and no visit had taken place at the school on 10 July 2017. While the Panel accepts that no visit took place at the school, the Panel was not provided with any evidence to suggest that further investigations had been undertaken to establish whether a visit had taken place at any other location. On the available evidence, the Panel was not satisfied that the Registrant had made a record of a visit that had not taken place. Accordingly, Particular 6 (a) is not proved.

36. In relation to Particular 6 (b), the Panel finds it is not proved that the Registrant visited Children J on 19 July 2017. The audit report provided to the Panel states that a meeting at the school took place and was attended by the Registrant on 19 July 2017. However, it is not clear whether this meeting was in relation to Children J or that they were seen. 

37. In relation to Particular 6 (c), the Panel finds that the Registrant did not provide Children J’s foster carers with key information about Children J. WDB confirmed that the Registrant had not shared any paperwork with the foster carers of Children J. The Panel found the evidence of WDB to be credible and reliable on this issue.

Particular 7

38. Particular 7 is concerned with the completion and/ or recording of visits within the required timescales.

39. In relation to Particular 7 (a), which concerns Children D, the Panel was not satisfied on the available evidence that there had been a failure to comply with the relevant timescale. The Registrant was allocated the case of Children D on 6 September 2017. She was dismissed on 18 September 2017. As at this date, the 10 working day time limit for a visit had not elapsed. Particular 7 (a) is not proved.

40. Particular 7 (b) is concerned with Child H. The Registrant was allocated the case of Child H on 6 September 2017. WDB stated that Child H was subject to a child protection plan and the Registrant should have visited the child every 10 working days. The Registrant did not record any visits to Child H in the period from 6 September 2017 to 18 September 2017. As at this date of her dismissal, the time limit for a visit had not elapsed. Accordingly, the Particular is not proved.

41. Particular 7 (c) is concerned with Child I. WDB explained that Child I was a “child in need”. The Registrant was required to visit Child I every 21 days. The Panel found Particular 5 to be proved. The Registrant recorded that she had visited the child on 25 August 2017 when this was not the case. The Panel accepted the evidence of WBD as credible and reliable. No visits are recorded in the period from 25 August 2017 until the Registrant left her employment. Accordingly, this Particular is proved as the Registrant did not complete any visit within the required timescale.

42. Particular 7 (d) is concerned with Children K. WDB explained that Children K was subject to a child protection plan and the Registrant was required to visit the child every ten working days. WDB explained that the entries in the six statutory visit forms between 27 June 2017 and 05 September 2017 were very similar in their terms.  It appeared that the majority of the contents had been cut and pasted from earlier records. This led the Panel to conclude that visits were not completed, and therefore this part of the Particular is found proved.

43. Particular 7 (e) is concerned with Child E. Child E was a “Child In Need” and the Registrant was required to visit the child every 21 days. The Panel has found, in relation to Particular 3, that the Registrant recorded that she had visited Child E on 28 July 2017 and 25 August 2017 when this was not the case. Given these findings, it follows that the Registrant did not complete any visits within the required timescales, and therefore this part of the Particular is found proved.

Particular 8

44. As the facts of Particulars 1 (a) and (b), 2, 3 (a), 4 and 5 are made out, the Panel is required to consider whether Particular 8 is made out and whether Registrant’s actions were dishonest.

45. Dishonesty was considered by the Supreme Court in Ivey v Genting [2018] AC 391. When dishonesty is in question, the fact-finding Panel must first ascertain (subjectively) the actual state of the individual's knowledge or belief as to the facts. The reasonableness or otherwise of the belief is a matter of evidence going to whether the belief was held. However, it is not an additional requirement that the belief must be reasonable. The question is whether it is genuinely held. Once the individual’s actual state of mind, as to knowledge or belief of the facts, is established, the question whether conduct was honest or dishonest is to be determined by the fact-finder by applying the objective standards of ordinary decent people. There is no requirement that the individual must appreciate that what has been done is, by those standards, dishonest. The Panel accepted this advice.

46. The Panel has found that the Registrant made records for a number of visits that did not take place. The Panel is required to ascertain what the Registrant knew about the facts at the relevant time.

47. In this regard, the Panel placed weight on the email of 21 March 2019, where the Registrant stated that:

“I have read and absorbed the allegations and in the most accept full responsibility for my actions”.

48. In the email, the Registrant also acknowledged that she had made “poor choices and decision making”.

49. The Panel has found that the Registrant advised the IRO of the CLA that she had visited Child A on two occasions when this was not the case. The Panel has also found that records were made by the Registrant of visits to Child A, Child B, Child E, Child F and Child I that did not take place.

50. The Panel finds that the Registrant was aware that she had not visited children A, B, E, F and I when she made the relevant records and made the relevant statement to the IRO. The Panel finds that this amounts to deliberate deception on the part of the Registrant. These are not matters on which the Registrant could have been confused. Moreover, given the volume of erroneous records, the Panel does not accept that the false entries arose from oversight or mistake. She actively created false records and knowingly verbally conveyed inaccurate information to a colleague. The Panel finds that, viewed objectively by the standards of ordinary decent people, the conduct of the Registrant was dishonest.

Decision on Grounds:

51. Having found the facts set out above proved, the Panel then considered whether the facts amounted to misconduct and/ or lack of competence.

52. The Panel took into account the submissions made by Ms Sheridan for the HCPC and the advice of the Legal Assessor.

Misconduct

53. The Panel was mindful that the question of misconduct is a matter for the Panel’s professional judgement, there being no standard or burden of proof.

54. The Panel took into account that misconduct was defined in Roylance v General Medical Council (no 2) [2001] 1 AC 311 as:

“…a word of general effect, involving some act or omission which falls short of what would be proper in the circumstances. The standard of propriety may often be found by reference to the rules and standards ordinarily required to be followed by a medical practitioner in the particular circumstances”.

55. The Panel considered the HCPC’s “Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics” in force in 2017 (the “Standards”), particularly standards 2.3, 6.1, 9.1 and 10.1.

These provide as follows:

• 2.3 - You must give service users and carers the information they want or need, in a way they can understand.

• 6.1 - You must take all reasonable steps to reduce the risk of harm to service users, carers and colleagues as far as possible.

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

• 10.1 – You must keep full, clear, and accurate records for everyone you care for, treat, or provide other services to.

56. The Panel bore in mind that not every breach of the Standards and not every falling short of what would be proper in the circumstances will constitute misconduct; the breach must be serious.

57. The Panel considers that, on the facts found proved in relation to Particular 1 (a), the Registrant breached a fundamental tenet of the profession, namely that social workers are expected to act with professionalism and integrity at all times. The Registrant’s conduct was dishonest. She told a fellow professional that she had visited a vulnerable child on two occasions when this was not the case. The provision of this false and misleading information had the potential to put at risk the safety and welfare of Child A as the information was provided to the IRO in the context of a CLA review. The actions of the Registrant also had the potential to jeopardise Child A’s trust in social workers. LW confirmed that the Child was very upset about the lack of any visits by the Registrant.

58. The actions of the Registrant breached paragraphs 6.1 and 9.1 of the Standards. The Panel finds that the Registrant’s actions were extremely serious and can be properly described as misconduct going to fitness to practise. The Panel considers that fellow professionals would view the actions of the Registrant to be deplorable.

59. Particulars 1 (b), 2, 3 (a), 4 and 5 concern false and misleading records being created by the Registrant. This involved records being made of visits that had not taken place. The facts that have been found proved demonstrate a pattern of the Registrant failing to adhere to statutory and local procedures which are designed to protect vulnerable service users. Accurate recording of visits by social workers is a critical aspect of ensuring the protection of vulnerable service users. The Registrant’s actions failed to safeguard the welfare of the children concerned and placed them at risk of harm. The Panel finds that the actions of the Registrant breached paragraphs 6.1, 9.1 and 10.1 of the Standards, and fell far below the standards expected and therefore constitute misconduct which fellow professional would find deplorable.

60. Particular 1 (c) concerns non-attendance at a statutory review. The Panel does not find that this amounts to misconduct. WDB stated that, in her opinion, the Registrant should have attended the statutory review. LW explained that a fellow colleague, JC, had attended in place of the Registrant and that the Registrant had briefed JC in relation to the child’s case. LW stated that there was no disadvantage in JC attending the statutory review as opposed to the Registrant. The Panel therefore does not consider that this incident amounts to misconduct.

61. Particular 3 (b) concerns the Registrant’s failure to ensure that there was a complete record of a visit to Child E by the Registrant. The Registrant made a brief record of the visit which stated that a full report would follow. However, she did not complete the report. While the failure to produce a full and accurate record of the visit is a failing on the part of the Registrant, the Panel does not consider that this incident amounts to serious misconduct. The Panel does not accept that fellow professionals would view one instance of failing to complete a record of a visit to a child as deplorable.

62. Particular 6 (c) concerns the failure by the Registrant to provide Children J’s foster carers with key information about the children. The Panel considers that this amounts to a breach of paragraphs 2.3 and 6.1 of the Standards. This omission by the Registrant put at risk the safety and welfare of the children as without key information the foster carer could not ensure that the children’s needs were being met. The Panel considers that this amounts to a serious failing on the part of the Registrant which constitutes misconduct.

63. Particulars 7 (c) and (e) are related to Particulars 3 (a) and 5. The Panel has found that records of visits were fabricated by the Registrant. The Panel has also accepted that these visits did not take place. The Panel finds that there has been a breach of paragraphs 6.1 and 9.1 of the Standards. The Registrant has failed to comply with statutory and local procedures that are designed to ensure the safety and welfare of vulnerable service users. The Panel considers that the actions of the Registrant amount to serious misconduct.

64. In relation to Particular 7 (d), the Registrant failed to undertake visits to Children K in the required timescale. The Registrant completed six records of visits to Children K in the period 27 January 2017 to 5 September 2017, but the Panel has concluded, at the facts stage, that these visits did not take place. The Registrant was well aware of the need to visit Children K. The failure to do so breaches paragraphs 6.1, 9.1 and 10.1 of the Standards. The Panel considers that this failure amounts to serious misconduct.

65. The Panel considers that the combined conduct of the Registrant outlined above constitutes a serious breach of professional standards, falls far below the behaviour expected of a registered social worker and thereby amounts to misconduct.

Lack of Competence

66. The Panel gave consideration to the alternative ground of lack of competence in respect of Particulars 3(b) and 7. However, the Panel was not satisfied that the matters found proved demonstrate a lack of competence. In the opinion of the Panel, the issues in the present case do not stem from a lack of knowledge or competence. Rather, in the opinion of the Panel, they amount to failings to apply that knowledge to individual cases.

Decision on Impairment:

67. The Panel has taken into account the submissions made by Ms Sheridan for the HCPC. The Panel has also considered the HCPTS Practice Note “Finding that Fitness to Practise is Impaired”. It also heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

68. The Panel is required to determine whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired as at today’s date. The Panel’s task is not to punish the Registrant for past acts. However, the Panel does require to take account of past acts and omissions in order to make an informed assessment as to whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired.

69. The Panel has taken into account:

• the ‘personal’ component: the Registrant’s own practice as a Social Worker, including any evidence of insight and remorse and efforts towards remediation; and

• the ‘public’ component: the need to protect service users, declare and uphold proper standards of behaviour and maintain public confidence in the profession.

70. The Panel has taken into account the guidance provided in Cohen v General Medical Council [2008] EWHC 581 (paragraph 65). The Panel has considered: (i) whether the Registrant’s conduct is easily remediable, (ii) whether it has been remedied, and (iii) whether it is highly unlikely to be repeated.

71. The Panel has found that the Registrant acted dishonestly. She provided false information to an IRO in the context of a CLA. She also fabricated records in relation to visits to vulnerable children that had not taken place. The Panel does not consider that the Registrant’s conduct is easily remediable as it concerns dishonest behaviour.

72. In the email dated 21 March 2019, the Registrant has acknowledged that she made “poor choices and decision making”. She states that she “…in the most accept full responsibility for my actions”. She asserts that she now understands the risks associated with her actions and has learned from the experience. This shows a degree of insight on the part of the Registrant. However, the Panel has made findings which relate to serious dishonesty. The Registrant’s actions were not an isolated incident of poor judgment. Her actions involved the fabrication of multiple records in relation to several children. This would have involved a degree of forethought. On the available evidence, the Panel does not consider that the Registrant has demonstrated that the serious failings identified in the previous sections of this decision have been remedied.

73. Furthermore, the Panel considers that there is a very significant risk of the Registrant acting in the future so as to put service users at potential risk of harm.

74. In respect of the personal component, the Panel applied the following test formulated by Dame Janet Smith in her Fifth Shipman Report and applied by the High Court in Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence v Nursing and Midwifery Council and Grant [2011] EWHC 927 (Admin), paragraph 76), to the extent relevant to the facts of the case:

“Do our findings of fact in respect of the [Registrant’s] misconduct, deficient professional performance, adverse health, conviction, caution or determination show that his/her fitness to practise is impaired in the sense that she/he:

a) has in the past acted and/or is liable to act in the future so as to put a patient or patients at unwarranted risk of harm; and/or

b) has in the past brought and/or is liable in the future to bring the medical profession into disrepute; and/or

c) has in the past breached and/or is liable in the future to breach one of the fundamental tenets of the medical profession; and/or

d) has in the past acted dishonestly and/or is liable to act dishonestly in the future?”

75. In relation to sub-paragraph (a), the Registrant’s past actions have put vulnerable service users at potential risk of harm. She failed to carry out visits to vulnerable children which were required by statutory and local procedures. The creation of false records also gave a misleading picture in relation to the children. Her actions concerned four families and five children of whom some were subject to child protection plans. The range of issues that arose in the individual cases included domestic violence, mental health, over-discipline, drug use by a child and absenteeism from school. In failing to carry out the required visits to these vulnerable children, the Registrant failed to manage the known and unknown risks that the children faced thereby placing them at risk of significant harm.

76. In relation to sub-paragraphs (b) and (c) above, the Panel considers that the actions of the Registrant brought the profession into disrepute. social workers occupy a position of privilege and trust in society and are expected at all times to be professional. The Registrant’s conduct fell well below the standards expected of members of the social work profession. The Registrant breached a fundamental tenet of the profession, namely that social workers are expected to act with professionalism and integrity at all times. The Registrant’s conduct was dishonest. For example, she told a fellow professional that she had visited a vulnerable child on two occasions, as part of a CLA review, when this was not the case. The provision of this false and misleading information had the potential to put at risk the safety and welfare of Child A. The actions of the Registrant also had the potential to jeopardise Child A’s trust in social workers. LW confirmed that the Child was very upset about the lack of any visits by the Registrant.

77. In relation to sub-paragraph (d), the Registrant’s actions were dishonest. The Registrant engaged to a limited extent in the current regulatory proceedings by providing emails with her views on certain issues. However, the Registrant has not directly accepted that her actions fell well short of the standards to be expected of a social worker or acknowledged the potential risk of harm to service users, the reputation of the Hampshire County Council and the social work profession. The Registrant has demonstrated a limited degree of insight but the Panel has seen no evidence of remediation. In these circumstances, the Panel does not consider the incidents outlined above to be isolated incidents of extremely poor judgment with a low risk of repetition. The Panel considers that there is a significant risk that the Registrant may act dishonestly in the future.

78. Accordingly, the Panel finds that, on the basis of the personal component, the Registrant’s fitness to practice is currently impaired.

79. The Panel went on to consider the Public component and whether this was the type of case that required a finding of impairment on public interest grounds in order to maintain public confidence in the profession and maintain proper standards of conduct.

80. In addressing this component of impairment, the Panel had regard to the observations of Silber J in Cohen v General Medical Council [2008] EWHC 581:
“Any approach to the issue of whether…fitness to practise should be regarded as ‘impaired’ must take account of…the collective need to maintain confidence in the profession as well as declaring and upholding proper standards of conduct and behaviour...” [paragraph 62]

81. Social Workers occupy a position of privilege and trust and are expected at all times to be professional. Service users must be able to trust them and, to justify that trust, they must act with integrity. The Panel considers that maintaining professionalism and proper standards of conduct are fundamental requirements of the profession and that the public would be extremely concerned to learn of the Registrant’s misconduct. In particular, the fact that she provided false information as part of a CLA review and fabricated records in relation to visits to vulnerable children.

82. The Panel considers that the misconduct is of an extremely serious nature. The Panel was satisfied that the actions of the Registrant brought the reputation of the profession into disrepute and that she has breached one of the fundamental tenets of the profession which is to make sure that her conduct justifies the public’s trust and confidence in her and her profession. (HCPC Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics – paragraph 9.1).

83. The Panel was satisfied that a fully informed member of the public, who is aware of the circumstances of this case, would have their confidence in the profession undermined if a finding of impairment was not made. This is because of the serious nature of the errors in judgment and the harm caused to the reputation of the profession by the Registrant’s conduct. The Panel is satisfied that a finding of impairment is necessary in order to send a clear message that providing false information and fabricating records, which risks the safety of Service Users, is completely unacceptable.

84. For all the reasons set out above, the Panel determined that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired on the grounds of public protection and in the public interest.

Decision on Sanction: 

85. The HCPC was provided with a copy of the Panel’s decision in relation to facts, grounds and impairment and afforded time to reflect upon it before addressing the Panel in relation to the issue of sanction.

86. Ms Sheridan, on behalf of the HCPC, addressed the Panel on the HCPC’s Sanctions Policy (“SP”). The decision on what sanction, if any, to impose was a matter for the judgment of the Panel. The HCPC did not invite the Panel to impose any particular sanction. However, Ms Sheridan highlighted that this was a case where the Panel had found there to have been a series of premeditated acts of dishonesty. In these circumstances, the Panel may consider that a caution Order is not appropriate and a Conditions of Practice Order would not be appropriate or workable.

87. The Panel received, and accepted, advice from the Legal Assessor. The Legal Assessor addressed the Panel on the SP and advised the Panel that in deciding what, if any, sanction to impose, the Panel should ensure that any sanction is proportionate and strikes a proper balance between the protection of the public and the rights of the Registrant.

88. The Panel has taken into account the SP. However, the Panel has reached its own independent decision on the appropriate sanction based on the individual facts of the present case. The Panel applied the principle of proportionality by weighing the Registrant’s interests with the public interest.

89. The Panel proceeded on the basis that the purpose of any sanction is not to be punitive. The primary objective is public safety. However, other public interest objectives have a role to play. These include:

(i) the deterrent effect to other Registrants;

(ii) the reputation of the profession concerned; and

(iii) public confidence in the regulatory process.

90. The Panel first considered whether there were any aggravating and/or mitigating factors to be taken into account when deciding the appropriate sanction.

91. In terms of mitigating facts, the Panel considers that:

• the Registrant has shown some limited insight by acknowledging that she made poor choices at the relevant time;

• the Registrant has stated that she was experiencing issues in her personal life which impacted on her work; and

• there is no previous regulatory finding.

92. The Panel considers that aggravating factors in this case are:

• the persistent and deliberate pattern of dishonest behaviour. This involves providing false information as part of a review and the fabrication of multiple records relating to visits to vulnerable children that had not taken place;

• the risk of significant harm to vulnerable service users that arose as a result of the Registrant’s actions;

• there is no evidence of any significant insight, remorse or steps being taken to address the likelihood of recurrence.

93. In order to ensure that it imposed a sanction that was no more restrictive than was necessary to protect the public and the public interest, the Panel considered the sanctions available to it in ascending order of severity.

94. The Panel was of the view that taking no further action would not be appropriate in the present case. The case involves serious issues including repeated incidents of dishonesty. The Panel considers that taking no further action would not satisfy the public interest and address the need to maintain confidence in the profession, and to uphold proper standards, in light of the serious nature of the Allegation that has been proved.

95. The Panel next considered whether a Caution Order was appropriate. The Allegation does not relate to an isolated incident. The matters are serious. The Registrant has shown limited insight and there is no evidence of remedial action. The Panel concluded that a Caution Order is not appropriate.

96. The Panel considered a Conditions of Practice Order. The Majority of the Particulars found proved relate to multiple acts of dishonesty for which no meaningful conditions could or can be formulated. A Conditions of Practice Order would therefore not provide sufficient public protection and would not maintain confidence in the Social Work profession. The Panel therefore concluded that such an order is not appropriate.

97. The Panel next considered a Suspension Order may be appropriate where the allegation is serious and cannot be addressed by any of the lower sanctions, but there is the potential for the Registrant to remedy their failings. The Allegation found to be proved is extremely serious. It involves the premeditated fabrication of multiple records relating to vulnerable service users. The Registrant’s actions put a number of vulnerable children at risk of significant harm. The view of the Panel, for the reasons recorded above, is that there is no evidence that the Registrant has any meaningful insight into the seriousness of her actions. Furthermore, there is a significant risk of repetition of the misconduct. The Panel has considered the fact that the Registrant may have been experiencing issues in her personal life at the relevant time. However, the evidence available to them in relation to such issues is extremely limited and is restricted to two brief emails from the Registrant. The Panel has not been provided with any evidence of meaningful insight on the part of the Registrant into the serious nature of her actions for vulnerable service users or the impact of her actions on the profession. The Panel therefore concluded that that a Suspension Order is not an appropriate and proportionate sanction, and further, would not adequately address the wider public interest in maintaining standards and the profession’s reputation.
 
98. The Panel went on to consider a Striking Off Order and concluded that this was the only appropriate and proportionate sanction in this case. The Panel recognises that a Striking Off Order is a “…sanction of last resort for serious, persistent, deliberate or reckless acts…” (SP, paragraph 130). The Allegation that has been proved is of an extremely serious nature. It involves repeated acts of dishonesty that put vulnerable children at risk of significant harm. The Registrant has not demonstrated any significant insight or any evidence of remediation. The Panel does not have any material that suggests the Registrant appreciates the serious nature of the Allegation or the impact of her actions on vulnerable service users and the profession more widely. Furthermore, there is a significant risk of repetition of the misconduct. In these circumstances, the Panel concluded that there was no other way to both protect the public and to meet the wider public interest in this case other than by imposing a Striking Off Order. The Panel concluded that a lesser sanction would undermine public confidence in the Social Work profession.

99. The Panel was mindful of the principle of proportionality when considering the appropriate sanction. The Panel recognises that the Registrant has had a previously unblemished career. It acknowledges that a Striking Off Order will preclude the Registrant from working as a Social Worker. However, taking into account the wider public interest in maintaining standards and the profession’s reputation, the Panel concluded that the Registrant’s repeated dishonest actions were fundamentally incompatible with her remaining on the HCPC Register.

100. The panel considered al of the information available, including the two emails provided by the Registrant. Having balanced all relevant considerations the Panel ultimately concluded that given the serious nature of the Allegation found proved and the significant risk of repetition, the wider public interest is paramount and a Striking Off Order is the only proportionate measure. No lesser sanction would serve the purpose of both protecting the public and meeting the wider public interest in this case.

Order

Order: The Registrar is directed to strike the name of Mrs Laura Boyce from the Register on the date this order comes into effect

Notes

Interim Order:

1. There has been an application by the HCPC for an Interim Suspension Order. The Panel heard submissions from Ms Sheridan on the need for an Interim Order to cover the period during which an appeal may be made and, if one is made, whilst that appeal is in progress. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

2. The HCPC’s application is made on the 2 statutory grounds as follows:

• it is necessary for the protection of members of the public

• is otherwise in the public interest.

3. The Panel has taken into account that in the Notice of Hearing the Registrant was put on specific notice of such a possibility and therefore notice in that respect has been served. The Panel has considered whether it is fair to proceed in the absence of the Registrant and has taken into account the reasons the Panel relied upon when deciding to proceed in the absence of the Registrant for the main part of the hearing. On that basis the Panel has decided that it is fair and appropriate to consider this application in the absence of the Registrant.

4. The Panel has found that the Registrant dishonestly fabricated a series of records relating to vulnerable children. Those failures exposed vulnerable children to a real risk of harm. The Registrant has not demonstrated significant insight into her failures. Consequently, there remains a real risk of significant harm to the public if the Registrant was to be allowed to practise without restriction. The Panel is also of the view that public confidence in the regulatory process would be undermined if the Registrant was allowed to remain in practice on an unrestricted basis. The Panel does not consider that conditions are appropriate or that they would provide the required degree of protection to the public. For these reasons, the Panel has determined that an Interim Suspension Order, in the same terms as the substantive order, is necessary to protect the public and is otherwise in the public interest.

5. The Panel considers that the order should be in place for a maximum period of 18 months. This period is required to ensure that the order is in place during any appeal.

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

7. 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.

 

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Mrs Laura Boyce

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
17/07/2019 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Struck off
17/04/2019 Conduct and Competence Committee Interim Order Review Interim Suspension
24/01/2019 Conduct and Competence Committee Interim Order Review Interim Suspension
26/10/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Interim Order Review Interim Suspension
31/07/2018 Investigating committee Interim Order Review Interim Suspension
02/02/2018 Investigating committee Interim Order Application Interim Suspension