Mr Stephen Samuel Thomas

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW34845

Hearing Type: Review Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 08/03/2019 End: 17:00 08/03/2019

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

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Conditions of Practice

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Allegation

The following amended Allegation was considered by a panel of the Conduct and Competence Committee at the substantive hearing on 11 April 2017.

Between 26 November 2012 and 30 July 2014, during the course of your registration as a social worker and whilst employed by Nottinghamshire County Council:

1. In relation to Payment by Result (PbR) claims:

a. The claims submitted by you were rejected due to inaccurate and/or missing information in relation to the following cases;

i. Family Q

ii. Family L

b. The claims submitted by you were not provided within the required timescales in relation to the following cases;

i. Family Q;

ii. Family S2;

iii. Family Z;

2. You did not undertake and/or record contacts within the required timescales in relation to:

a. Family T;

b. Family L;

c. Family R;

d. Family S1;

e. Family S2;

f. Family S3;

g. Family W1;

h. Family P1;

i. Family D;

j. Family M1;

k. Family M2;

l. Family B1;

3. You did not carry out and/or record a full assessment within the required timescales in relation to;

a. Family S1;

b. Family S2;

c. Family W2;

d. Family T;

e. Family L

f. Family P1;

g. Family A

h. Family S3;

i. Family W1

j. Family R;

k. Family P2;

l. Family B3;

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

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

Finding

Preliminary Matters

Service

1. The Panel was satisfied that notice of today’s hearing had been served on the Registrant at his home address in accordance with the Rules.

Proceeding in Absence

2. The Registrant did not appear today nor was he represented. He had attended the final hearing on 11 April 2017 and had been represented.

3. On behalf of the HCPC, Mr Stephens applied for the hearing to be conducted in the absence of the Registrant on the basis that the Registrant had been notified of the date, time and location of the hearing at his registered address. Mr Stephens submitted that it was in the public interest for the hearing to proceed expeditiously.

4. The Registrant had been in contact with the HCPC. He had referred to attending a funeral today but had declined to provide further details in respect of it. His solicitors were those who represented him at the final hearing. They had indicated that they would provide documents to assist him but would not be in attendance. Neither the Registrant nor his solicitor had requested an adjournment.

5. Having considered the HCPTS Practice Note on “Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant” and the advice of the Legal Assessor on the case of GMC v Adeogba [2016] EWCA Civ 162 (“the fair, economical, expeditious and efficient disposal of allegations against medical practitioners is of real importance”), the Panel was satisfied that the Registrant had received reasonable notice of today’s hearing. The Registrant had not applied for an adjournment and there was no indication that he would attend at a later date if today’s hearing were to be adjourned. The Panel determined that he had voluntarily absented himself.

6. The Panel noted the overriding public interest in dealing with matters in a timely manner and that this was a mandatory review. The Panel took into account that it should proceed in the absence of the Registrant with the utmost care and caution. In balancing the Registrant’s interest and the public interest, the Panel decided that the matter should be heard in the absence of the Registrant.

 
Background

7. The Registrant is a registered Social Worker. He commenced employment at Nottinghamshire County Council (“the Council”) in March 1992. Over the subsequent years he was employed in various positions at the Council, including as a: Social Worker in the Youth Offending Team; Senior Co-ordinator in the Family Intervention Team; and a Social Worker in the Reception and Assessment and Team. At the time of the Allegation, the Registrant was a District Co-ordinator in the Supporting Families West Locality Team. During the Registrant’s time in this latter role, his line managers reported performance concerns in relation to matters including recording assessments, contact and monitoring reviews.

8. A three-stage internal disciplinary process was conducted at the Council. KS, Department Manager of the Supporting Families Team, presented her findings from her supervision sessions with the Registrant, at the three internal hearings which took place.

9. The Registrant was given notice from the Council in August 2014 and left their employment on 24 October 2014.

10. The matter was subsequently referred to the HCPC.

The Consent Order

11. In April 2017, following discussions between the Registrant and his legal representatives, the Registrant agreed and signed the proposed Consent Order. The case was therefore listed for a Panel to consider approval of a Consent Order, on the basis that the Registrant had demonstrated insight into the matters which led to the making of the Allegation against him and had engaged in the fitness to practise process. It was proposed that a Conditions of Practice Order for a period of 2 years was a proportionate measure that would provide the necessary protection to the public.

12. That panel considered the public protection and public interest tests as set out in the HCPC Practice Note on the “Disposal of Cases by Consent”. It also carefully considered the HCPC “Indicative Sanctions Policy” and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The panel considered the facts of the case and the submissions made. In particular, the panel noted the reflective statement (undated) of the Registrant in which he accepted liability for the matters which form the basis of the Allegation and expressed remorse and regret. It also noted the contents of several references submitted by him, although the most recent reference was then some 6 months old.

13. In signing the Consent Order the panel noted that the Registrant had accepted the Allegation in full. He accepted that his conduct during the relevant period amounted to misconduct as it represented a serious departure from the standards expected. He also accepted that his fitness to practise was currently impaired.

14. In failing to maintain accurate and complete records the Registrant placed vulnerable service users at risk of harm. The admitted failings continued over an 18-month period. In the context of inadequate record keeping, service users could be placed at risk of harm as the records failed to provide a complete picture for other decision makers accessing those records. In this case there was also the risk of financial loss to the organisation and the risk of wider reputational harm to the profession. In those circumstances, that panel was satisfied that there was potential for a finding of impairment in this case on both public protection and public interest grounds.

15. In considering the application the panel had regard to the fact that the Registrant was diagnosed with a health condition in 2009. An expert was instructed by the HCPC who described the impact the health condition would have had upon the Registrant’s work. The period of the Allegation coincided with a period when the Registrant’s performance was affected by his health condition as he did not have the necessary strategies and equipment in place to maintain the required standards of performance.

16. The panel noted the testimonial of Ms RST who worked with the Registrant for nine years and managed him between June 2009 and January 2013. She observed that the Registrant was an exceptional practitioner with excellent interpersonal skills. During the period when she managed the Registrant, she had ensured that numerous strategies and equipment were in place to support the Registrant. No issues with his performance were identified during that period, “once the assistive equipment was in place [the Registrant] was fully able to keep accurate and complete records in addition to taking on extra projects and managing these in a timely fashion”.

17. The panel decided that the Registrant had shown full insight into and understanding of the implications of his actions and it was to the Registrant’s credit that he had not sought to abdicate his own responsibility in respect of the period of the Allegation. He recognised that it was his responsibility to prioritise the areas which he found most challenging within his professional practice, namely record keeping. He also accepted that it was his responsibility to ensure that adequate strategies and equipment were in place in order that his professional standards were not affected by his condition. Furthermore, the Registrant had been proactive as a result of his health condition.

18. The panel noted that the Registrant had enjoyed an otherwise long and unblemished career. Testimonials confirmed that the issues identified were out of character against the background of his career.

19. Between his dismissal from the Council in August 2014 and February 2017 the Registrant worked at Worcester County Council and Doncaster Children’s Trust as a Social Worker via the Ackerman Pierce Employment Agency. Reasonable adjustments were made in these roles and there was no repetition of the conduct identified. The panel noted that a testimonial on behalf of the agency described the Registrant as, “a very hardworking individual who evidently worked incredibly hard to safeguard the welfare of the children and families he worked with”.

20. In all of these circumstances the panel considered there was a low risk of recurrence of the failings identified and concluded that this was an appropriate case for a Conditions of Practice Order.

21. The panel was mindful of the need to balance the effect of the order upon the Registrant with the need to protect the public and uphold the wider public interest. The panel was satisfied that a 2 year Conditions of Practice Order was a proportionate sanction in all of the circumstance. It would provide the public with the necessary degree of protection and the panel was satisfied that public confidence in the profession and the regulator would not be undermined by proceeding in that way. Accordingly, that panel approved a Conditions of Practice Order for 2 year’s duration.

22. The Conditions of Practice Order imposed in April 2017:

“That the Registrar be directed to annotate the Register to show that for a period of 2 years from the date that this Order comes into effect (the Operative Date) the Registrant, Stephen Samuel Thomas, must comply with the following conditions of practice:

1. You must inform the HCPC within a week of obtaining employment pertaining to Social Work.

2. You must inform the following parties that your registration is subject to these conditions:

A. any organisation or person employing or contracting with you to undertake professional work;

B. any agency you are registered with or apply to be registered with (at the time of application); and

C. any prospective employer (at the time of your application).

3. You must place yourself and remain under the supervision of a Social Worker registered by the HCPC and supply details of your supervisor to the HCPC within one month of confirming your supervisor. You must attend upon that supervisor as required and follow their advice and recommendations.

4. You must work with your supervisor to formulate a Personal Development Plan designed to address the deficiencies in the following areas of your practice:

A. Standard 10 of the HCPC’s Standards of conduct, performance and ethics -‘You must keep accurate records’

B. Standard 10 of the HCPC’s Standards of Proficiency for Social Workers - ‘Be able to maintain records appropriately’

5. Within three months of the Operative Date you must forward a copy of your Personal Development Plan to the HCPC.

6. You must meet with your supervisor on a monthly basis to consider your progress towards achieving the aims set out in your Personal Development Plan.

7. 14 days before the review hearing of this Order, you must allow your supervisor to provide information to the HCPC about your progress towards achieving the aims set out in your Personal Development Plan.

8. You must maintain a reflective practice profile detailing what you have learnt throughout the period of this Order with regards to record keeping and must provide a copy of that profile to the HCPC 14 days before the review hearing of this Order.

9. You must periodically review any reasonable adjustments put in place pursuant to the Equality Act 2010.

10. You must raise any concerns you have about any reasonable adjustments put in place to the appropriate person and/or organisation in a timely manner.

11. You must inform the HCPC within a week of any disciplinary proceedings taken against you by your employer.

12. You must allow your employer or supervisor to provide a report to the HCPC 14 days before the review hearing of this Order, especially commenting on your record keeping.

13. You will be responsible for meeting any and all costs associated with complying with these conditions.

14.  Any condition requiring you to provide any information to the HCPC is to be met by you sending the information to the offices of the HCPC, marked for the attention of the Director of Fitness to Practise or Head of Case Management.”


Decision

23. This is the first review of the Conditions of Practice Order. The Panel considered all of the material put before it.

24. Mr Stephens for the HCPC reminded the Panel of the history of the case and of its powers as to extending, continuing, varying or revoking the Order or imposing another order. He submitted that the lack of information supported a finding of continued impairment. In terms of sanction, Mr Stephens for the HCPC suggested that the appropriate measure to protect the public was a further Conditions of Practice Order.

25. The Panel accepted and applied the advice it received from the Legal Assessor as to the proper approach it should adopt. In particular that:

a. The purpose of the review is to consider the issue of current impairment based on the previous panel’s findings of fact, the extent to which the Registrant has engaged with the regulatory process, the scope and level of his insight and the risk of repetition.

b. In terms of whether his previous misconduct has been sufficiently and appropriately remedied, relevant factors include whether the Registrant:

i. Fully appreciates the gravity of the previous panel’s finding of impairment;

ii. Has maintained his skills and knowledge;

iii. Is likely to place service users at risk if he were to return to unrestricted practice.

26. The Panel should have regard to the HCPTS Practice Note: “Finding that Fitness to Practise is Impaired” and must take account of a range of issues which, in essence, comprise two components:

a. the ‘personal’ component: the current competence, behaviour etc. of the individual registrant; and

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

27. It is only if the Panel determines that the Registrant’s fitness to practise remains impaired, that the Panel should go on to consider sanction by applying the guidance as set out in the HCPC “Indicative Sanctions Policy” (ISP), and the principles of proportionality which require the Registrant’s interests to be balanced against the interests of the public.

28. The Panel had firmly in mind that the purpose of this review hearing was to conduct a thorough appraisal of the Registrant’s current fitness to practise, including an assessment of future risk, and that this was not a rehearing of the original case.

29. The Panel noted that the original panel had found full insight and a low risk of repetition. Prior to these matters, the Registrant had been working without any reported problems for a considerable period of time and had obtained very supportive references. The Registrant had a health condition. Nonetheless the findings concerned serious issues regarding record keeping over a prolonged period of time and involving a number of families.

30. The Panel considered the information provided by and on behalf of the Registrant, namely:

a. His email of 29 December 2017, where he set out his current efforts to gain employment and his working arrangements as of 19 December 2017;

b. His email of 21 November 2018, which provided an update with regards to his working arrangements and the reasonable adjustments which had been made by his employer;

c. The telephone note of the contact between the Registrant and the HCPC on 5 March 2019, where the Registrant indicated he might be able to get some documents before Friday, provided some update as to his working arrangements and confirmed he still had representation;

d. The telephone note of the contact between the Registrant’s representative and the HCPC on 5 March 2019;

e. The email sent by the Registrant’s representative to the HCPC on 6 March 2019 where she confirmed documents would be sent to the HCPC regarding this matter;

f. The limited Personal Development Plan sent by BB, the Registrant’s Team Manager, on 21 November 2018 to the Registrant’s representative and forwarded by them to the HCPC on 8 March 2019.

31. The Panel concluded that there was insufficient evidence of remediation. There had been only partial compliance with the Conditions of Practice Order. Condition 5 had not been complied with; there was insufficient evidence to conclude there had been full compliance with Condition 6 and there was no compliance in respect of Condition 8. These were important parts of the Conditions of Practice Order and in the circumstances the Panel concluded that the Registrant remained impaired today on public protection grounds and the wider public interest.

32. The Panel considered the ISP and what sanction, if any, to impose. This was not minor or isolated misconduct and mediation or a Caution Order would not provide sufficient public protection.

33. The Panel concluded that a Conditions of Practice Order is appropriate. The behaviour is capable of being remedied and this is a proportionate sanction in all of the circumstances. It provides the public with the necessary degree of protection and public confidence in the profession and the Regulator would not be undermined by proceeding in this way.

34. The Panel considered a Suspension Order but concluded that this would be disproportionate and unnecessary.

35. Accordingly, the Panel varies and extends the Conditions of Practice Order for 8 months duration which allows sufficient time for the Registrant to comply with the Order.

Order

ORDER: The Registrar is directed to vary and extend the Conditions of Practice Order against the registration of Mr Stephen Samuel Thomas for a further period of 8 months on the expiry of the existing Order. The varied conditions are:

1. You must inform the HCPC within a week of obtaining employment as a registered Social Worker.

2. You must inform the following parties that your registration is subject to these conditions:

A. any organisation or person employing or contracting with you to undertake professional work;

B. any agency you are registered with or apply to be registered with (at the time of application); and

C. any prospective employer (at the time of your application).

3. You must place yourself and remain under the supervision of a Social Worker registered by the HCPC and supply details of your supervisor to the HCPC within one month of confirming your supervisor. You must attend upon that supervisor as required and follow their advice and recommendations.

4. You must work with your supervisor to formulate a Personal Development Plan designed to address the deficiencies in the following areas of your practice:

A. Standard 10 of the HCPC’s Standards of conduct, performance and ethics -‘You must keep accurate records’

B. Standard 10 of the HCPC’s Standards of Proficiency for Social Workers - ‘Be able to maintain records appropriately’

5. Within 28 days of today, you must forward a copy of your updated Personal Development Plan to the HCPC.

6. You must meet with your supervisor on a monthly basis to consider and record your progress towards achieving the aims set out in your Personal Development Plan.

7. You must obtain from your supervisor an interim report about your progress towards achieving the aims set out in your Personal Development Plan and you must provide a copy of this to the HCPC within 3 months of this Order.

8. You must obtain from your supervisor a final report about your progress towards achieving the aims set out in your Personal Development Plan and you must provide a copy of this to the HCPC 14 days before the review hearing of this Order.

9. You must maintain a reflective practice profile detailing what you have learnt throughout the period of this Order with regards to record keeping and maintaining records and must provide a copy of that profile to the HCPC 14 days before the review hearing of this Order.

10. The reflective practice profile must be discussed with your supervisor during your monthly supervision and your supervisor should be asked by you to comment upon this in their interim and final report.

11. You must provide work-based testimonials to the HCPC 14 days before the review hearing of this Order.

12. You must periodically review any reasonable adjustments put in place pursuant to the Equality Act 2010.

13. You must raise in a timely manner to the appropriate person and/or organisation any concerns you have about any reasonable adjustments put in place.

14. You must inform the HCPC within a week of any disciplinary proceedings taken against you by your employer.

15. You will be responsible for meeting any and all costs associated with complying with these conditions.

16. Any condition requiring you to provide any information to the HCPC is to be met by you sending the information to the office of the HCPC, marked for the attention of the Director of Fitness to Practice or Head of Case Management.

Notes

This Order will be reviewed by the HCPC before its expiry on 11 December 2019.

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Mr Stephen Samuel Thomas

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
08/03/2019 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing Conditions of Practice
11/04/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Conditions of Practice