Mr Stephen P Johnson

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW27652

Hearing Type: Voluntary Removal Agreement

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 02/05/2019 End: 17:00 02/05/2019

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

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Voluntary Removal agreed

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Allegation

Between 1 January 2010 and 30 November 2014, whilst employed as a Social Worker by the London Borough of Barnet:

 

1. Regarding Service User A, you:

a) made an inappropriate recording on Service User A's case record in relation to a home visit conducted on 28 April 2014, whereby you wrote: "I did not bother asking [Service User A] what she would do if she fell out with her boyfriend and was asked to leave" or words to that effect;

b) did not complete and/or update a risk assessment by 19 June 2014, as requested on 11 June 2014;

c) did not complete the chronology section of Service User A's case record;

 

2. Regarding Service User B, you did not complete the chronology section of Service User B's case record;

 

3. Regarding Service User C, between 5 December 2012 and 18 September 2014, you:

a) did not complete the chronology section of Service User C's case record;

b) did not make a complete and/or comprehensive record of the Pathway Plan outcomes meeting with Service User C held on 17 April 2014;

c) did not conduct and/ or record Statutory Visits to Service User C as required;

 

4. Regarding Service User D, between 12 July 2013 to June 2014, you:

a) did not consistently update and/or complete the chronology section of Service User D's case record;

b) did not update a the risk assessment as instructed on 2 June 2014;

 

5. Regarding Service User E, from 8 October 2010 to June 2014, you:

a) did not conduct and/or record Statutory Visits as required;

b) did not record the following Statutory Visits within 7 days:

i. 19 November 2012

ii. 2 May 2014  

c) did not conduct and/or record a visit to Service User E, as instructed on 2 June 2014;

d) did not record updates regarding Service User E's;

i. dental checks;

ii. health assessments.

 

6. Regarding Service User F, between 11 January 2010 and August 2014, you:

a) not proved;

b) did not conduct and/or record Statutory Visits as required;

c) did not update Service User F's Pathway Plan, as instructed on 2 June 2014.

 

7. Regarding Service User G, between 31 January 2013 and August 2014:

a) did not complete the chronology section of Service User G's case record;

b) did not consistently conduct and/or record Statutory Visits as required.

 

8. Regarding Service User H, between 8 January 2013 and June 2014:

a) did not complete the chronology section of Service User H's case record;

b) did not conduct and/or record Statutory Visits as required;

c) did not attempt to and/or visit Service User H within the required time period, as requested on 11 June 2014;

 

9. The matters described in paragraphs 1 - 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 of Notice
1. The notice of this hearing was sent to the Registrant at his address as it appeared on the register on 3 April 2019. The notice contained the date, time and venue of today’s hearing.


2. 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 Conduct and Competence Rules 2003 (the “Rules”).


Proceeding in the absence of the Registrant

3. The Panel then went on to consider whether to proceed in the absence of the Registrant pursuant to Rule 11 of the Rules. In doing so, it considered the submissions of Ms Simpson on behalf of the HCPC.


4. Ms Simpson submitted that the HCPTS has taken all reasonable steps to serve the notice on the Registrant. Ms Simpson further submitted that the Registrant has engaged with the HCPC and that an adjournment would serve no useful purpose. The Registrant’s attendance today was not required, bearing in mind the purpose of today’s hearing, and the fact that the Registrant has properly signed and returned the Voluntary Removal Agreement.


5. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.


6. The Panel was satisfied that all reasonable efforts had been made by the HCPTS to notify the Registrant of the hearing. It was also satisfied that the Registrant was aware of the hearing.


7. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant had voluntarily absented himself from the hearing. There is a distinction between a case where the Registrant is clearly aware of the hearing date, and one where there has been no response from the Registrant in relation to his attendance. The nature and purpose of today’s hearing was such that the attendance of the Registrant was not necessary.


8. Having weighed the public interest for expedition in cases and the Registrant’s own interest, the Panel decided to proceed in the Registrant’s absence.

Background:

9. The Registrant was a Senior Social Worker with the London Borough of Barnet (“the Council"). He had worked for the Council from August 2000. As a Senior Social Worker he was responsible for the more complex cases. He was based in the Children Leaving Care Service, which became the Onwards and Upwards Team. His responsibilities included providing advice, guidance and support to young people aged sixteen plus.


10. In January 2014, the Council commissioned an Independent Peer Review to review quality issues within the service. In March 2014, the report was finalised and highlighted a number of matters.


11. Following the review, Witness 2, Service Improvement Manager for the Council at the relevant time, accelerated an improvement process and as part of this there was an audit of every case within the service. The audit revealed a number of concerns in respect of the Registrant’s record keeping including non-completion of Pathway Plans, chronologies, risk assessments and statutory visits. The Registrant was referred to the HCPC by Witness 2.


12. On the 11 June 2014, the Registrant had a meeting with Witness 2 and, his newly appointed line manager, Witness 3. Concerns in respect of a number of service users, which formed part of the Registrant’s caseload, were identified and discussed. Following this, a Personal Improvement Plan was devised dated 16 June 2014. On 3 July 2014, the Registrant attended a three way supervision meeting with Witness 2 and Witness 3. As a result of on-going concerns, he was invited to attend a formal meeting on 21 July 2014. However, the Registrant was signed off on sick leave on 10 July 2014. On 15 September 2014, the Registrant met with Witness 2 to discuss his return to work and the outcome was that he was suspended.


Final hearing
13. The Final Hearing of these matters took place on 23 – 26 October 2017. The Final Hearing Panel found all but one of the alleged facts proved. The Registrant had admitted many of them at the outset of the hearing and the remainder during his evidence, save for Particular 6(a), which he continued to deny. That panel found Particular 6(a) not proved.


14. In reaching its decision on misconduct that panel stated the following:


“The Panel had regard to the ‘Standards of proficiency for Social workers in England’ (2012) and in particular the following standards from the HCPC ‘Standards of, performance and ethics’ (2012):


Standard 1 - you must act in the best interests of service users.
Standard 10 - you must keep accurate records.


In coming to its decision in relation to misconduct, the Panel took account of the importance of the following duties in supporting young care leavers:
a chronology provides a summary of significant events in a young persons life since the start of their involvement with social services, which can extend to several years. An up to date chronology enables other professionals to gain a quick understanding of relevant events without reading the whole file;


a Pathway Plan is a care plan developed with the young person looking at their physical and emotional well being, housing, education and work plans for the future. It needs to be reviewed regularly;


a risk assessment is an assessment of the risks posed to and/or by the service users and those around them. The purpose is to ensure the young person, and the public are kept safe;
the purpose of statutory visits is to ensure the young person’s needs are being accounted for and met.


The Panel is satisfied that the facts found proved amount to a serious departure from the above standards. The acts and omissions had the potential to put service users at risk. In some cases, some of the service users presented a high degree of risk to members of the public as well as to other Social Workers and professionals dealing with them. In particular, the acts and omissions with regard to keeping up to date chronologies, risk assessments and undertaking statutory visits posed a significant risk to service users, members of the public, colleagues and the reputation of the Council. These failings took place in some cases over a number of years. In addition, these failings could also have delayed or deprived young people of support and life opportunities. Notwithstanding the evidence of Witness 1 that there were systemic failings generally across the Onwards and Upwards Team, the Panel was nevertheless satisfied that the Registrant had a responsibility as a senior Social Worker and an autonomous practitioner to comply with the relevant standards. The Panel is in no doubt that the Registrant’s acts and omissions were a serious falling short of the standards to be expected. The Panel therefore finds that the Registrant’s acts and omissions amounted to misconduct.”


15. In reaching its decision on current impairment, the Final Hearing Panel also stated the following:


“The Panel accepted that the Registrant had engaged with the process throughout which was to his credit and that he had made appropriate admissions at the outset of the hearing and during his evidence. He presented as a caring individual in so far as the young people in his care were concerned. He acknowledged the risks that his acts and omissions had entailed and the Panel was satisfied that he had demonstrated some insight during his oral evidence. The Panel also noted that he had an unblemished career prior to the matters in this case.


However, in light of the fact that there was no evidence of current good practice and insight was limited in that he continued to highlight institutional failings rather than acknowledge his own individual responsibility, the Panel could not exclude the risk of repetition were the Registrant to be placed in a similar position again. In fact, he accepted that he would not want to have the same caseload again.


The Panel therefore finds that the Registrant’s misconduct presented a risk to service users, members of the public and fellow professionals and in the absence of any evidence of remediation such on-going risk cannot be excluded.


Turning to the public component, the Panel is in no doubt that public confidence in the profession would be undermined if a finding of impairment were not made. The public, vulnerable service users and fellow colleagues would expect that proper professional standards of conduct and behaviour are upheld.


The Panel therefore finds the Registrant’s fitness to practise currently impaired.”


16. The Final Hearing Panel stated the following when deciding on the appropriate and proportionate sanction:


“The Panel considered the following to be aggravating features:
• acts and omissions over a period of years;
• not taking full responsibility as an autonomous professional;
• deflecting responsibility on to others.


The Panel considered the following to be mitigating factors:
• a lengthy, unblemished career prior to these incidents;
• engaging openly and honestly with the HCPC and the Panel;
• a commitment to the welfare of service users in his care;
• positive testimonial evidence;
• some developing insight;
• an acknowledgment by Witness 1 of the systemic failings in the Onwards and Upwards Team.


The Panel first considered whether a sanction was necessary in this case. In the circumstances where the Panel identified an on-going risk to service users in the absence of any evidence as to remediation, the Panel determined that to conclude the case without any action would be wholly inappropriate.


The Panel then considered whether a Caution Order would be appropriate. It noted paragraph 28 of the ISP, which noted that a Caution Order may be appropriate where the Registrant has taken appropriate remedial action and where the risk of repetition is low. The Panel noted that the Registrant had taken no remedial action since he left the Council in 2014; the Panel had found that insight was partial; and that there was a risk of repetition. The Panel therefore considered that a Caution Order would not be appropriate.


The Panel then went on to consider whether a Conditions of Practice Order would be appropriate and proportionate. It is satisfied that in the circumstances of this case where the misconduct relates primarily to record keeping and prioritisation of workload, conditions could be formulated that would adequately protect the public and the wider public interest.”


17. The Final Hearing Panel imposed the following conditions upon the Registrant’s practice for a period of 12 months:

  1. Within the period of 12 months of the conditions coming into effect and prior to any review you must:
    A. satisfactorily complete training on record keeping, risk assessments and statutory responsibilities; and
    B. forward evidence of training to the HCPC.
  2. You must place yourself and remain under the supervision of workplace supervisor registered by the HCPC or other appropriate statutory regulator and supply details of your supervisor to the HCPC within 28 days of commencing work as a Social Worker. You must attend upon that supervisor as required and follow their advice and recommendations.
  3. You must work with supervisor to formulate a Personal Development Plan designed to address the deficiencies in the following areas of your practice:
    • Prioritising workload
    • Record keeping
    • Risk assessments
    • Statutory responsibilities
  4. You must forward a copy of your Personal Development Plan to the HCPC within 3 months of commencing employment as a Social Worker.
  5. You must meet with supervisor on a fortnightly basis to consider your progress towards achieving the aims set out in your Personal Development Plan.
  6. 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.
  7. You must provide the HCPC with a reflective piece addressing the failings identified at the substantive hearing 28 days prior to the review hearing.
  8. You must promptly inform the HCPC if you cease to be employed by your current employer or take up any other or further employment.
  9. You must promptly inform the HCPC of any disciplinary proceedings taken against you by your employer.
  10. 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).


First review hearing
18. The first review of the order imposed took place 25 October 2018. On that occasion the Registrant attended the hearing and gave evidence of his insight and of his plans for the future. He told the reviewing panel that he did not intend to return to practise as a Social Worker.


19. The reviewing Panel found that the Registrant had demonstrated a good level of insight into his behaviour. However, because the Registrant had demonstrated that he did not intend to return to practise as a Social Worker, there was no evidence, other than his good insight, that he would not repeat his behaviour and thereby put service users at risk of harm. That reviewing panel found that the Registrant fitness to practise remained impaired on that basis.


20. In deciding what sanction they should impose, the reviewing panel considered that there should be an exploration of the possibility of a Voluntary Removal Agreement (“VRA”). That panel imposed a short period of suspension to enable that exploration, and also because the continuation of the Conditions of Practice would serve no useful purpose in those circumstances.

Decision:

21. This Panel considered the submissions of Ms Simpson on behalf of the HCPC. She outlined the background to the allegations and the outcome of the Substantive Hearing in 2017. She submitted that, following representations from the Registrant, and a full review of the case, a Voluntary Removal Agreement was the appropriate method of finalising this case. She said that the HCPC was satisfied that the Registrant fully understood the effect of the Voluntary Removal Agreement and that granting the application would not compromise the protection of the public or have any detrimental effect on the wider public interest. The HCPC did not consider that this was a case that only a Striking-Off Order would suffice to protect the public and the public interest.


22. The Panel took into consideration the determination of the previous panel, which found that it was clear that the Registrant no longer wishes to practise as a Social Worker and has no intention of applying for restoration to the HCPC register as a Social Worker in the future.


23. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. He drew the Panel’s attention to the case of Matthew Clarke v The General Optical Council [2017] EWHC 521 (Admin).


24. The Panel considered all of the information and representations by Ms Simpson. The Panel has applied its own judgement to the application and also had regard to the HCPTS’ Practice Note on “Disposal of Cases by Consent”.


25. The Panel noted that the HCPC is satisfied that it would be meeting its statutory objective of protecting the public and safeguarding the public interest, if the Registrant was permitted to be removed from the Register on similar terms to those which would apply if he were subject to a striking off order under article 29(5) of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001.


26. The Panel had before it the Voluntary Removal Agreement that had been agreed between the HCPC and the Registrant, which was signed and executed by both parties. The Registrant also signed a Declaration that there was no other matter of which he was aware which might give rise to any other allegation.


27. The Panel firstly considered whether there were any factors that would make it undesirable to allow this matter to be concluded on the consensual basis set out in the Voluntary Removal Agreement. The Panel has concluded that, given the nature of the Allegation, there are no overriding public interest factors that would require this matter to conclude by way of striking the Registrant’s name from the HCPC Register.


28. Further, the Panel noted that the Final Hearing Panel determined that a Conditions of Practice Order was the appropriate sanction. It did not consider that a more severe sanction was required.


29. In the light of the above, and the level of insight found by the previous reviewing panel, this Panel determined that concluding the case by way of striking the Registrant’s name from the HCPC Register would be disproportionate.


30. The Panel is aware that if the Registrant seeks to return to the HCPC Register at any time in the future, his application would be treated as if he had been struck off as a result of the Allegation.


31. In all the circumstances, the Panel is satisfied that both the public and the public interest would be adequately protected by the terms of the agreement reached between the Registrant and the HCPC, in as much as the Registrant will henceforth be prevented from practising as a Social Worker and, should he wish to apply to return to the Register, he will be treated as though he had been struck off.


32. Furthermore, the Panel is satisfied that this method of concluding this matter is appropriate and proportionate, and is jointly in the interest of the public, the HCPC and the Registrant. It would allow the Registrant a dignified end to his career as a Social Worker. Accordingly the Panel approves the Voluntary Removal Agreement.


33. The Panel is also satisfied that the public interest has been satisfied in that the Registrant has been held to account and that proper standards of practice and behaviour have been upheld and declared.


34. In light of the Panel’s determination in relation to the Voluntary Removal Agreement, it is exercising its power to review the Order under Article 30(2) and 30(4) and revokes the current Suspension Order with immediate effect.

Order

The Panel directs that the Suspension Order (the Existing Order) be revoked and approves the VRA on the basis that the Registrar will remove the name of Mr Stephen P Johnson from the Register with immediate effect.

Notes

No notes available

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Mr Stephen P Johnson

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
02/05/2019 Conduct and Competence Committee Voluntary Removal Agreement Voluntary Removal agreed
25/10/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Interim Order Review Suspended
23/10/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Conditions of Practice