Dr Michelle O'Sullivan

Profession: Practitioner psychologist

Registration Number: PYL32894

Interim Order: Imposed on 05 Oct 2017

Hearing Type: Review Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 01/11/2019 End: 13:00 01/11/2019

Location: Health and Care Professions Tribunal Service

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Caution

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Allegation

Whilst registered as a Practitioner Psychologist with the Health and Care Professions Council, you:

1. On 14 September 2017, at North London Magistrates Court, were convicted of:

(a) 2 x Import a controlled drug of class C with intent to evade a prohibition/restriction.

(b) 1 x possession of a controlled drug of class A – MDMA.

(c) 2 x possession of a controlled drug of class B – other.

(d) 1 x possession of a controlled drug of class C – other.

(e) 2 x Offering to supply class A controlled drug.

(f) 1 x Offering to supply class B controlled drug.

2. By reason of your convictions as set out in paragraphs 1(a) – 1(f), your fitness to practise is impaired.

Finding

Preliminary Matters

Proceeding in Private


1. The Panel heard that matters relating to the Registrant’s health were to be discussed as part of this application. Ms Fletcher submitted that it was appropriate that the entire hearing be held in private as the Registrant’s health was intrinsically linked to the issues in this case and she would be making submissions on those issues.


2. Ms Ktisti objected to the application. She pointed out that this is a conviction case rather than a health case. She reminded the Panel that the Final Hearing was held only partially in private.


3. The Legal Assessor stated that his advice in this case would be that the previous panel had determined that the Registrant had addressed her health issues and was therefore not impaired on the personal component. Therefore that is a matter that cannot be reopened.  He reminded the parties that the previous panel found that the Registrant’s fitness to practice was impaired solely on the public interest grounds alone.


4. Ms Fletcher further submitted that the evidence that her client will give with regard to her health and Ms Fletcher’s submissions, would go to the public interest in this case.


5. The Panel accepted the Legal Assessor’s advice and it noted Rule 10(1)(a) of the Health and Care Professions Council (Conduct and Competence Committee) Procedure Rules 2003 (“Procedural Rules”) whereby matters pertaining to the private life of the Registrant, should be heard in private. The Panel agreed the parts of the hearing should be in private where health issues were raised in this hearing.

Background

6. The Registrant is a registered Practitioner Psychologist who was employed by Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust (the “Trust”) at the material time. She also carried out private work through Zenith Psychology Ltd (“Zenith”). On 11 May 2017, the Registrant referred herself to the HCPC following her arrest on 9 May 2017 for suspected drug offences. She had been released on unconditional bail. In her referral, the Registrant indicated that she had informed the Trust of her arrest. Initially the Trust suspended her from work on full pay. In January 2018, the Registrant was dismissed by the Trust. The Registrant also informed Zenith of her arrest and that she had decided to cease her own private work and withdrew as a director of the firm.


7. The facts relating to the Registrant’s arrest are that on 1 May 2017, at Coventry Airport, officers intercepted a package addressed to the Registrant at her work address, which was found to contain 300 Diazepam tablets and 100 Alrazolam tablets. Enquiries by the officers established the Registrant was employed by the Trust. Officers also established that in September 2016, the Registrant had received a similar delivery to her home address. Following her arrest, officers searched the Registrant’s address and found a number of different types of drugs, including MDMA (Class A), cocaine (Class A) and ketamine (Class B), as well as a number of Valium tablets. The estimated street value of the drugs was between £700 and £1700.


8. The Registrant surrendered her mobile phone, and its memory was analysed. There were text messages and Whatsapp messages which showed that the Registrant had, on a number of occasions, offered to supply class A, B and C drugs to around 10 individuals, some of whom were identified by name. There was also ‘a tick list’ or shopping list of orders for drugs from some of those identified by name. The messages covered the period from July 2016 to March 2017.


9. When the Registrant was interviewed by the officers, she provided a prepared written statement in which she indicated that she had been suffering from stress and anxiety. She made full admissions to the offences.


10. The Registrant was charged with offences relating to her possession and/or the supply of a variety of controlled drugs and one charge of importing a controlled drug. She appeared at North London Magistrate’s Court on 14 September 2017 when she pleaded guilty to these offences. The Registrant was committed to Blackfriars Crown Court for sentence. On 10 November 2017, at Blackfriars Crown Court, she was sentenced to 24 months imprisonment suspended for 24 months, ordered to carry out 300 hours of unpaid work before 9 November 2018, and ordered to undertake a Rehabilitation Activity Requirement for a period of 30 days concurrent. She was made subject to electronic monitoring between 19:00 hours and 05:00 hours daily for three months and ordered to pay costs and victim surcharge totalling £425.00. The Registrant has successfully completed the 300 hours of unpaid work and undertaken the 30 days Rehabilitation Activity Requirement.


11. The Registrant has been employed by the Rail Safety and Standards Board in a non-clinical role since January 2018.


12. At the last hearing, the panel found the Allegation found proved by way of the Certificate of Conviction from Blackfriars Crown Court.  It heard evidence from the Registrant and was impressed with the Registrant’s insight into her health issues, which contributed to her taking drugs. That panel was also impressed with the work undertaken by the Registrant to address her health issues and maintain her clinical skills. In light of the above, that Panel found that the Registrant’s fitness to practise was not impaired on the personal component grounds.


13. That panel found that the Registrant’s fitness to practise was impaired on the public component grounds. That panel was satisfied that an informed member of the public would consider that public confidence in the profession and this regulatory process would be undermined if there was no finding of impairment in this case.


14. That panel determined that the serious nature of these criminal offences were such that it warranted a Suspension Order for the maximum period of one year.

Decision:

15. Ms Fletcher, on behalf of the Registrant, outlined the background of the case. The Registrant gave oral evidence and the Panel were able to test her evidence.


Legal Advice


16. The Legal Assessor reminded the Panel that the finding of the panel on the previous occasion was that the Registrant had remedied her shortcomings and had gained insight. Therefore that panel determined that the Registrant is not liable in future to put the public at risk of harm, nor is she liable in future to bring the profession into disrepute, nor is she liable to breach a fundamental tenet of the profession. It therefore found that the Registrant’s fitness to practice was impaired solely on the public interest grounds.


17. The Legal Assessor reminded the Panel that its role was not to conduct a rehearing of the allegations nor was it to go behind the previous findings. He advised that in carrying out this assessment, the Panel must exercise its own independent judgment.


18. The Legal Assessor also reminded the Panel that whilst it could not go behind the decision of the previous panel, this Panel was not bound by the decision of that panel.


19. The Legal Assessor also reminded the Panel that the Suspension Order imposed previously was for the maximum period and that the panel could not have imposed a longer period of suspension if it thought that one was required.


Panel’s considerations and decision


20. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel took into account the submissions of both parties. It particularly took into account the evidence of the Registrant.


21. The Panel was in agreement with Ms Fletcher’s submissions that the Registrant had addressed the issues as to why she had been taking prohibited drugs, which started when she had been training until she had been caught and convicted for what are serious criminal offences, possession of controlled drugs with intent to supply as well as importation of Class C drugs.  The evidence before it demonstrates that that the Registrant has tested negative for prohibited drugs between the period October 2018 and July 2019.


22. However, the Panel was concerned about the Registrant’s insight into her drug dealing offences. This was not explored in the decision of the previous panel and this Panel asked the Registrant questions about those offences. The Registrant’s answers dealt with why she did what she did and cited sociological and stress. She did not truly address the impact of her convictions upon the public’s perception of, and confidence in, the profession. She did not fully appreciate that the purpose of the 300 hours of unpaid work was a punitive sanction imposed by the Court. She told the Panel that she did not think it was a good use of her skills and abilities to be doing that activity but accepted that those were the limitations of the Criminal Justice System.


23. The Registrant mainly concentrated on the reasons why she had been taking drugs, stating that she had done it for so long that she had normalised it in her mind, and when it came to dealing drugs that was seen as a normal behaviour for her as well. She stated that she had not supplied drugs commercially but had merely contacted friends when she was going to buy drugs to see if they wanted her to purchase some for them. She told the Panel that this was a reciprocal arrangement and that the purpose of this arrangement was to minimise the risk of being caught and that it was cheaper to purchase in greater quantities.


24. It was only when asked what she thought a member of the public would think of a Registrant who had been convicted of these offences did she appear to properly reflect upon the impact her convictions had upon the reputation of the profession and the confidence the public have in the profession. The Panel are satisfied that the Registrant has gained some insight into the public’s perception of a Registrant who deals in drugs.


25. The Panel reminded itself that this was a case where impairment was solely on the grounds of public interest alone. It was also mindful that the previous panel had imposed a suspension period for the maximum period of twelve months.


26. The Panel determined that the seriousness of these offences was such that a finding of impairment was still required on public interest grounds notwithstanding the Suspension Order for 12 months. The Panel determined that these matters are so serious that the public would not accept that a Suspension Order for 12 months alone was sufficient to meet the public interest. 


27. Therefore, the Panel finds that the Registrant’s fitness to practise remains impaired on the Public Interest component alone.

Sanction


28. Having determined that the Registrant’s fitness to practise remains impaired, the Panel then considered what sanction, if any, should be imposed. It took into account the submissions of both parties.


29. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor, who had reminded the Panel that there were no risks to the public identified by the previous Panel, and the consideration today was what sanction does the public interest demand in this case in order to declare and uphold proper professional standards and behaviour and to maintain public confidence in the profession.


30. The Panel had regard to all the evidence presented and to the HCPTS’ Indicative Sanctions Policy. The Panel reminded itself that a sanction is not to be punitive although it may have a punitive effect. The Panel bore in mind the principles of fairness and proportionality when determining what the appropriate sanction in this case should be.


31. The Panel was aware that any sanction it imposes must be the least restrictive sanction that, in this case, is sufficient to protect the public interest. It should take into consideration the aggravating and mitigating factors in the case. The Panel also reminded itself that it must apply the principle of proportionality, weighing the Registrant’s interest against the public interest. 

Panel’s consideration and decision


32. The Panel has had regard to all the evidence presented and to the HCPTS’ Indicative Sanctions Policy. This was not a case where the Registrant’s clinical skills are in question. The testimonies of the witnesses attest to the Registrant being a competent Practitioner Psychologist who is held in high regard. There are no identifiable areas of her practice that might benefit from re-training. The testimonies of the witnesses all speak about her drug abuse, but do not specifically speak about her drug dealing offences and whether those have impacted upon their impressions of her.


33. The Panel took into account the following factors when considering the issue of current impairment.


a) the Registrant had fully engaged with this regulatory process;
b) the Registrant has apologised and is clearly remorseful of her actions;
c) the Registrant’s previous unblemished record; and
d) the finding of the previous panel that she had ‘exceptional insight’ into her drug abuse.


34. The Panel first considered taking no action but concluded that the public interest requires a further sanction in this case. This is due to the serious nature of her drug dealing offences, which included Class A and Class B drugs.


35. The Panel then considered whether to make a Caution Order. It bore in mind that a Caution Order would not restrict the Registrant’s right to practise. The Panel was mindful of the finding that the Registrant has demonstrated insight into her drug abuse but had begun the journey to full insight into the drug dealing offences.


36. The Panel determined that, in this case, the public interest would be met with the further imposition of a Caution Order as a sanction, The Panel determined that a member of the public who was fully informed of the above considerations, would countenance the Registrant’s return to unrestricted practice to continue her service to the public. The member of the public would also be aware that the Registrant’s practice has already been suspended for a period of one year and that this Caution Order is consecutive to that order.


37. In these circumstances, the Panel concluded that the additional sanction of a Caution Order of three years would be sufficient to satisfy the wider public interest. The Panel determined that the appropriate and proportionate period for which the Caution Order should be imposed is three years, given the need for public confidence to be upheld and a deterrent effect on the profession at large. The Panel determined that it would be disproportionate to impose a Caution Order for a longer period for the above reasons.

Order

Order: Upon the expiry of the current Suspension Order, the Registrar is directed to annotate the Register entry of Dr Michelle O’Sullivan with a caution, which is to remain on the Register for a period of three years from that date.

Notes

A substantive review was held in London on 1 November 2019. A Caution Order was imposed.

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Dr Michelle O'Sullivan

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
01/11/2019 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing Caution
05/10/2017 Investigating committee Interim Order Application Interim Suspension