Ms Arlene Nicholson

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW84724

Interim Order: Imposed on 27 Mar 2017

Hearing Type: Review Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 25/03/2019 End: 12:00 25/03/2019

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 at the Final Hearing)

Between March 2011 and June 2015, whilst employed as a Social Worker by Hampshire County Council:

1. In the case of Service User A, you inappropriately disclosed information about another service user to Service User A’s wife;

2. In the case of Service User B:

a. You did not adequately complete a Care Needs Assessment;

b. You did not undertake a Mental Capacity Assessment;

c. You did not refer the service user to the Older Person’s Mental Health Team for assessment until prompted to do so;

3. In the case of Service User C:

a. You did not arrange respite for Service User C in a timely manner;

b. You did not maintain appropriate professional boundaries, in that you inappropriately carried out 6 visits with the service user and his wife.

4. In the case of Service User D:

a.You did not communicate effectively with the service user;

b.You closed Service User D’s case without having completed all actions;

5. In the case of Service User E:

a.You closed Service User E’s case without having obtained feedback from a Mental Health Review / CPA meeting;

b.You did not promptly respond to a safeguarding alert;

6. In the case of Service User F:

a. You did not complete ‘Consent to Share’ for Service User F’s family member in the case file;

b. You did not complete adequate notes in respect of your visit for Service User F on 6 May 2015;

c. You did not undertake a Mental Capacity Assessment until prompted to do so;

7. In the Case of Service User G;

a. You did not inform the domiciliary agency that you had arranged for Service User G to move into residential care;

b. You did not undertake a Mental Capacity Assessment until prompted to do so;

c. You did not adequately complete a Care Needs Assessment;

8. In the case of Service User H;

a.You did not progress the case in a timely manner, in that you:

i. Did not gather information for the Deprivation of Liberty (DOLs) condition check;

ii. Did not update the Service User’s daughters following your visit on 6 May 2015;

iii. Did not make and/or record a decision and/or outcome about the Service User’s capacity;

b. You did not adequately undertake a Mental Capacity Assessment.

9. Your actions described at Particulars 1 to 8 constitute misconduct and/or lack of competence.

10. 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 the Registrant was notified of the date and time of the hearing via a letter dated 18 February 2019 (the “Notice of Hearing”) which was sent by first class post to her registered address and accordingly 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).
Proceeding in Absence of the Registrant

2.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 27 – 28 March 2017 and imposed a Suspension Order, which was reviewed on 15 March 2018. The Presenting Officer invited the Panel to exercise its discretion to proceed with the case in the absence of the Registrant, pointing out that the Registrant is under a professional burden to engage with the proceedings but had chosen not to do so.  There was an expectation that regulatory matters would be dealt with expeditiously however the Registrant had not engaged at any stage and there was no indication that, if the matter was adjourned, she would engage in future.

3.The Panel noted the provisions of the HCPTS practice note in respect of proceeding in absence. 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 she provided any reason for her failure to engage with her regulator in this matter. Included in the Notice of Hearing was confirmation that the hearing could proceed in the absence of the Registrant. She was therefore on notice that the hearing could proceed.

4. The Panel was satisfied that it was appropriate for it to exercise its discretion to hear the matter in the absence of the Registrant.  Although proceeding in absence may disadvantage the Registrant, it was satisfied that she was aware of the hearing (the Panel having already found that there had been good service in relation to the Notice of Hearing). The Registrant had chosen not to be represented or provide any comment on the matter, and had not engaged with the regulator at all from the commencement of the regulatory proceedings. 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. It considered that the public interest in proceeding outweighed any potential prejudice which may be suffered by the Registrant. It was satisfied that the Registrant had voluntarily absented herself from the proceedings without making representations.

Background:

5. The HCPC received a referral in August 2015 from Hampshire County Council (“the Council”) regarding the Registrant. She had been employed as a Social Worker with the Council between 2003 and 2015, working in the Adults Service with older people and adults with physical disabilities.

6. The Substantive Hearing took place between 27 and 28 March 2017, proceeding in the absence of the Registrant. A number of Particulars were found proved which amounted to misconduct. The Panel determined that the Registrants fitness to practice was impaired and that although the shortcomings identified were capable of remediation, the Registrant had not provided any evidence of remediation. The Panel concluded that she posed a risk to the public. It determined that the appropriate sanction was a Suspension Order of 12 months duration and indicated that a reviewing Panel may be assisted by:
 
6.1  Evidence of engagement with the HCPC and attendance at the review hearing;

6.2 Evidence of her insight and appreciation of the potential harm caused by her to service users and the reputation of her profession;

6.3 Evidence that she has kept her professional knowledge and skills up to date.

7. On 15 March 2018 the Suspension Order was reviewed. Again, the Registrant was neither present nor represented at the hearing. The reviewing Panel determined that the Registrant’s fitness to practise remained impaired and imposed a further period of suspension of 12 months to enable the Registrant to demonstrate that she had remediated her shortcomings and was ready to resume her career as a Social Worker. 

Decision:

8. The Panel carefully considered the information provided to it in the papers and the submissions of the HCPC.  It noted that the HCPC’s position was that a Striking Off Order was appropriate. There was no evidence of insight or remediation as the Registrant had not engaged in the regulatory process and the HCPC therefore submitted that the Registrant continued to pose a risk to the public. It was inappropriate to keep the Registrant in a review cycle given her lack of engagement in the 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 would not be possible to formulate proportionate and workable Conditions of Practice to address the risk posed to the public in respect of the Registrant.

9. The Panel accepted and applied the advice received from the Legal Assessor in relation to the proper approach in 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 and Indicative Sanctions. It also noted and applied the HCPC’s guidance on Article 30 reviews and sanction orders. 


10. 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 were allowed to remain in practice on an unrestricted basis. The review process to be followed by a Panel when conducting an Article 30 review is the same as for other fitness to practise proceedings and is not a mechanism for ‘going behind’ the original finding that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired.  The purpose of this review is to consider 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. The 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:


10.1  the steps which the Registrant has taken to address any specific failings or other issues identified in the previous decision;

10.2  the degree of insight shown and whether this has changed;

10.3  the steps which the Registrant has taken to maintain or improve   her professional knowledge and skills;

10.4  whether any other fitness to practise issues have arisen;

10.5  whether the Registrant has complied with the existing order.

11. The Panel’s task is to consider whether the concerns raised in the original finding of impairment had been sufficiently addressed, and the burden is on the Registrant to demonstrate that she has fully acknowledged the deficiencies which led to the original finding and has addressed that impairment sufficiently.

12. This was the second review of the Suspension Order imposed upon the Registrant and the Panel noted that it had a duty to consider the safety of the public when determining whether the Registrant poses a risk if allowed to return to unrestricted practise. The Panel was aware of the need for its decision to be proportionate. 

13.The Panel found that the risks identified by the previous panels considering this matter have not materially changed. The Registrant had not offered any explanation for events. Having conducted an assessment of the risks identified in this matter, the Panel was satisfied that the Registrant could continue to pose a risk to the public if allowed to return to unrestricted practise at this point.

14. Further, a reasonable and well-informed member of the public would be concerned if no action was taken to restrict the Registrant’s practise - public confidence in the profession and the regulatory process would be seriously undermined given the nature and gravity of the Registrant’s shortcomings and her failure to engage at all with the regulatory process. 
 
15. The Panel 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 did not believe that an adequate level of protection could be achieved through the imposition of a Conditions of Practice Order. The Panel also concluded that conditions would be insufficient to address the issue of trust and confidence in the profession and the requirement to uphold the integrity of the regulatory process. 

16. Given the complete lack of engagement in the regulatory process by the Registrant for a number of years, the Panel considered that it was now appropriate to impose a Striking Off Order and that no lesser order would be appropriate. Although a Suspension Order had been appropriate initially to try to facilitate the Registrant’s return to the profession, her continued lack of engagement in the process meant that it was now inappropriate to maintain her in the review process, and it was in the interest of the public and, the profession for the Registrant to be struck off. The Panel had regard to the consequential impact a Striking Off Order would have on the Registrant but concluded that her interests were outweighed by the Panel’s duty to give priority to the public interest and maintain confidence in the regulator.

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

Order

The Panel decided to strike the name of Arlene Nicholson from the Register on the date this order comes into effect.

Notes

No notes available

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Ms Arlene Nicholson

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
25/03/2019 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing Struck off
15/03/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing Suspended
27/03/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended