Mr Rudolph A Coombs

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW22741

Interim Order: Imposed on 29 Aug 2017

Hearing Type: Review Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 14/03/2019 End: 13:00 14/03/2019

Location: Health and Care Professions Tribunal Service

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Struck off

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Allegation

During the course of your employment as a Social Worker by the London Borough of Newham, you:

1. Between December 2010 and July 2013, you were the designated care coordinator for Service User A, and you:

(a) Acted outside of your scope of practice, in that you:

(i) Allowed London Borough of Newham and/or East London Foundation trust headed paper to be used for Service User A’s personal correspondence;

(ii) Corresponded with external parties on Service User A’s behalf;

(iii) Allowed correspondence concerning Service User A’s court case to be sent directly to you at your work address;

2. (a) Did not adequately analyse and/or demonstrate your analysis of the potential impact of legal proceedings on Service User A’s physical and/or mental well-being.

2. (b) As a result of paragraph 2(a) above your mental health assessment of Service User A was inadequate.

3. The matters described in paragraphs 1-2 constitute misconduct and/or lack of competence.

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

Finding

Preliminary Matters:

Proof of Service

1. The Panel was provided with a signed certificate as proof that the Notice of Hearing had been posted on 19 February 2019 by first class post, to the address shown for the Registrant on the HCPC register.  The Notice was also sent to the Registrant by email.

2. Although the Registrant has not been given 28 days notice of at the hearing the Panel is satisfied that the Registrant has not suffered any prejudice by the shorter notice period.

3. The Panel is therefore satisfied that there has been good service.

Proceeding in Absence

4. The Panel noted that the review hearing had been scheduled to take place on 18 February 2019. The Registrant did not attend on that date and the panel on that occasion declined to proceed in his absence. The principle reason that the panel gave is that the Registrant, having been wrongly informed that the Suspension Order did not expire until 28 September 2019, may not have realised that the review was his final chance to demonstrate insight and remediation.

5. The Panel took into account the contents of the Registrant’s email to the HCPC dated 11 March 2019 addressed to the chair of the panel in which he stated:

“Please also note that since 2016 I have not worked in the social work profession and have resolved to move into another field. I would therefore be grateful for the opportunity to de-register from the Health and Care Professions Council with immediate effect. In this regard I see little merit in attending the review hearing set for Thursday 14th March 2019 and I offer my sincere apology to you and the rest of the panel.”

6. It also took into account the need to review the order before it expires.

7. In all the circumstances the Panel has decided that the Registrant has voluntarily absented himself from the hearing and that he is unlikely to attend any adjourned hearing. Accordingly, the Panel has decided to proceed with the hearing.

Background:

8. The Registrant was a registered Social Worker. He commenced employment with London Borough of Newham on 19 July 2010. At the time of the relevant events, he was seconded to East London Foundation Trust and was working within an integrated Community Mental Health Team.

9. On 20 August 2013, the HCPC received a referral from London Borough of Newham regarding the Registrant. Their concerns related to the Registrant’s conduct in respect of Service User A’s case. The Registrant was the designated Care Co-Ordinator for Service User A and Service User A was pursuing an action in the High Court. In particular, the referral raised concerns that the Registrant had acted outside of professional boundaries by acting in a manner that could be construed as performing the duties of a legal representative for Service User A. This included corresponding with external parties on Service User A’s behalf, allowing correspondence regarding Service User A’s court case to be sent directly to the Registrant at his work address, and using London Borough of Newham and East London Foundation Trust headed paper for Service User A’s personal correspondence. As a result, London Borough of Newham were concerned that the Registrant had gone beyond his role which was to provide emotional and moral support during the court proceedings.

10. The London Borough of Newham was also concerned that the Registrant, although having maintained that Service User A had mental capacity to fully participate in the court proceedings, did not formally test this using the prescribed framework under the Mental Capacity Act 2005. This was despite concerns as to Service User A’s capacity being raised by legal professionals and the courts and despite Service User A experiencing bouts of physical and psychiatric ill health during the three year period of the court proceedings.

11. At a hearing on 29 and 31 August, which the Registrant attended, a panel found that that the Registrant’s fitness to practice was impaired by reason of his misconduct and imposed a Suspension Order for 12 months.

12. In its decision on sanction the panel stated:

“[The Panel] decided that a Suspension Order for 12 months is sufficient and necessary to protect the public in view of the Registrant’s lack of insight and remediation. It makes this order on the basis that the Registrant’s failings are remediable through reflective insight and relevant training. Although the Registrant has indicated that he has no intention of returning to social work practice this cannot be guaranteed as his circumstances may change. A Suspension Order would allow the Registrant the opportunity, should he wish to take it, to demonstrate to a future review panel that he has reflected on his shortcomings and taken remedial steps through training and discussion with a senior practitioner to develop his understanding of why his conduct was at fault and how this could have, and did, impact adversely on Service User A.

The Panel did consider a Striking Off Order but concluded that this would be disproportionate given that the Registrant was well motivated, if misguided, in his actions. The Panel also had in mind that this was a single episode and that the Registrant had an otherwise unblemished record as a social worker.”

13. The Suspension Order was reviewed at a hearing on 24 August 2018. The Registrant did not attend the hearing or provide any information for consideration. In the absence of any positive evidence of insight or remediation that panel concluded that the Registrant’s fitness to practice remained impaired.

14. In relation to sanction the panel in 2018 extended the Suspension Order for six months and stated:

“In concluding that an extended Suspension Order was the appropriate sanction the panel took the view that a Striking Off Order, at this point in time, would be disproportionate as there remains a possibility that the Registrant is willing and able to demonstrate remediation. The extended Suspension Order will be reviewed shortly before expiry. A future reviewing panel is likely to be assisted by the following:

(a)  The attendance of the Registrant at the Hearing;

(b)  Evidence that the Registrant has reflected on his shortcomings and taken remedial steps through training and discussion with a senior practitioner to develop his understanding of why his conduct was at fault and how this could have, and did, impact adversely on Service User A.

The Panel recognised that alternatively if the Registrant remains committed to his stated intention to cease practice as a social worker, he may use the intervening period to enter into discussions with the HCPC with regards to a VRA.”

Decision:

15. In reaching its decision the Panel has taken into account the submissions of Ms Senior on behalf of the HCPC.

16. The only further information available from the Registrant to the Panel today is that in his email of 11 March 2019 namely:

“It is to be noted that at the previous hearings I attended on 29th and 31 August 2017 at Kennington Road, I admitted the mistakes I made in the case of service user (A) and stated that I have learnt from these errors of judgment and wanted to move on, both in my career and life generally. I also stated at the said hearings that on reflection my actions would have being different; I hoped this had been accepted by the panel and the matter closed.”

17. Clearly this information is not new and only relates to what the Registrant said at the original hearing.

18. In the circumstances the Panel still has no evidence that the Registrant as undertaken any steps to remediate his misconduct or has insight into it. Indeed given his statement that he has resolved to move into another field it is no surprise that the Registrant has not provided such evidence.

19. The Panel has therefore concluded that there is an ongoing risk to the public and that the Registrant’s fitness to practice remains impaired.

20. In relation to sanction the Panel concluded that in view of the Registrant’s lack of engagement, taking no action, imposing a Caution Order or a Conditions of Practice Order would not be appropriate.

21. The Panel next considered whether it was appropriate to extend the Suspension Order and decided that it was not. In reaching this decision the Panel took into account that the Registrant has had 18 months to demonstrate remediation and insight but he has chosen not to do so. Accordingly, the Panel has concluded that there would be no useful purpose served in extending the order.

22. The Panel has therefore concluded that a Striking Off Order is the only appropriate and proportionate sanction. In reaching this decision the Panel has taken into account paragraph 48 of the  Indicative Sanctions Policy which states:

“Striking off should be used where there is no other way to protect the public, for example, where there is a lack of insight, continuing problems or denial. A registrant’s inability or unwillingness to resolve matters will suggest that a lower sanction may not be appropriate.”

23. The Panel recognises that a striking off removes the Registrant’s right to practice but it notes that in his email he stated “I would therefore be grateful for the opportunity to de-register from the Health and Care Professions Council with immediate effect.”

Order

Order: The Registrar is directed to strike the name of Mr Rudolph A. Coombs from the Register on the date this order comes into effect. 

Notes

The order imposed today will apply from 28 March 2019.

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Mr Rudolph A Coombs

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
14/03/2019 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing Struck off
18/02/2019 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing Adjourned
24/08/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing Suspended
29/08/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended
02/05/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Hearing has not yet been held