Miss Helen Jones

Profession: Biomedical scientist

Registration Number: BS64911

Hearing Type: Consent Order Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 03/02/2020 End: 17:00 03/02/2020

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

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Caution

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Allegation

Whilst registered as a Biomedical Scientist with the Health and Care Professions Council (“HCPC”) you: 

1. On various occasions between around December 2018 and January 2019, posted videos and / or photographs of yourself smoking what appeared to be cannabis on social media accounts:

a. Under the usernames / handles ‘Pretty Smoker’ and / or ‘SmokingFetish5’;

b. Alongside captions and / or hashtags which directly and / or indirectly reference the use of cannabis; and / or,

c. Alongside links to your ‘amazon wish list’ and invitations /instructions to other social media users to “spoil” and / or “treat” you. 

2. On around 7 January 2019, posted an image of yourself on Twitter in a laboratory environment alongside images of yourself smoking and with the caption “As people don’t believe I have a ‘real’ job, look, here’s me doing science shit! And other stuff”. 

3. Your actions at particulars 1-2 constitute misconduct. 

4. By reason of your misconduct, your fitness to practise as a Biomedical Scientist is impaired.

Finding

Preliminary Matters

Service of Documents

1. The Hearings Officer confirmed that the Registrant was informed that a hearing would take place on 3 February 2020 by a letter dated 20 November 2019 (the “Notice of Hearing”). The nature of the hearing was however incorrectly described in the Notice of Hearing and therefore a further notice was sent to the Registrant dated 27 January 2020.

2. The Registrant acknowledged receipt of the replacement Notice of Hearing via an email dated 28 January 2020, and confirmed that she was content to waive the minimum notice period for the hearing on 3 February 2020. 

3. The Panel was satisfied that Notice had been properly served in accordance with Rule 3 (Proof of Service) and Rule 6 (date, time and venue) of the Conduct and Competence Committee Rules 2003 (as amended).

Proceeding in Absence

4. The Presenting Officer applied for the hearing to proceed in the Registrant’s absence as permitted by Rule 11 of the Conduct and Competence Rules. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and took into account the guidance as set out in the HCPC Practice Note ‘Proceeding in Absence’.

5. The Panel determined that it was reasonable and in the public interest to proceed with the hearing in the absence of the Registrant. The hearing related to the consideration of a consent order and the Registrant had confirmed via email on 28 January 2020 that she was content for the hearing to proceed in her absence, providing details as to why she would not be in attendance. 

6. The Panel recognised that there may some disadvantage to the Registrant in not being able to give evidence or make oral submissions to it, however she had engaged with the HCPC throughout this matter, provided a reflective statement and signed the consent order. The Panel was satisfied that this therefore mitigated any potential disadvantage to the Registrant in not attending. Further, there is a strong public interest in ensuring that matters are disposed of fairly and expeditiously. It was unlikely that the Registrant would attend a future hearing if this hearing was adjourned, and she had not indicated any desire to be represented at the hearing. The Panel considered it to be in the Registrant’s interest that this matter is concluded without unnecessary delay. 

Background

7. The Registrant is a registered Biomedical Scientist. Between October 2018 and January 2019 the Registrant worked within the Pathology Department of Nuffield Health on an agency basis at Guilford Hospital. 

8. On 21 January 2019 the HCPC received a referral from Nuffield Health in respect of the Registrant. Nuffield Health had received an anonymous letter dated 29 December 2018 alleging that the Registrant “is using illegal drugs and selling videos of themselves doing so online. Their smoking of cannabis is documented daily on social media.” Nuffield Health terminated the agency placement of the Registrant as a consequence of the allegation and informed her agency of the concerns raised. 

9. On 7 August 2019 a Panel of the Investigating Committee determined that there was a case to answer in respect of the following allegation:


  Whilst registered as a Biomedical Scientist with the Health and Care   Professions Council (“HCPC”) you:
1. On various occasions between around December 2018 and January 2019, posted videos and / or photographs of yourself smoking what appeared to be cannabis on social media accounts:
a. Under the usernames / handles ‘Pretty Smoker’ and / or ‘SmokingFetish5’;
b. Alongside captions and / or hashtags which directly and / or indirectly reference the use of cannabis; and / or
c. Alongside links to your “Amazon wish list” and invitations / instructions to other social media users to “spoil” and / or “treat” you.
2. On or around 7 January 2019, posted an image of yourself on Twitter in a laboratory environment alongside images of yourself smoking and with the caption “As people don’t believe I have a ‘real’ job, look, here’s me doing science shit! And other stuff’.
3. Your actions at particulars 1 – 2 constitute misconduct.
4. By reason of your misconduct, your fitness to practise as a Biomedical Scientist is impaired.
10. The Presenting Officer invited the Panel to exercise its case management powers in order to consider a disposal by consent.

Decision

11. The Presenting Officer confirmed that the Registrant has admitted the facts, that her conduct amounts to misconduct and that her fitness to practise is impaired. She submitted that the proposed Consent Order would maintain public confidence in the profession and would not be detrimental to the wider public interest.

12. The Registrant indicated by a letter dated 28 June 2019 that her postings on social media showed a lack of judgement which she deeply regretted. Within a reflective statement provided in support of the proposed disposal by consent, the Registrant offered a further apology and recognised that her behaviour could have a detrimental impact on the profession, stating “I was posting on social media without acknowledging that these posts could be seen by service users, colleagues and the general public and the negative effect this would bring on my reputation, the reputation of the NHS, private hospitals and healthcare as a whole”.

13. The Panel carefully considered all of the information and evidence within the bundle, including the Allegation, the Registrant’s reflective statement and the terms of the Order itself. It took into account the guidance contained within the HCPC Practice Note entitled "Disposal of Cases By Consent” which states that a panel should not agree to resolve a case in this way unless it is satisfied of two things: firstly, that the appropriate level of public protection is being secured and, secondly, that doing so would not be detrimental to the wider public interest. It also noted the provision that “…any remedial action proposed by the registrant and to be embodied in the Consent Order is consistent with the expected outcome if the case was to proceed to a contested hearing.”

14. In assessing the appropriateness of the proposed Consent Order, the Panel carefully considered the balance between its duty to protect the public and the interests of the Registrant. The Panel also had regard to the HCPC Sanctions Policy and took into account paragraph 101 which states:

 ‘A caution order is likely to be an appropriate sanction for cases in which:
   
• the issue is isolated, limited, or relatively minor in nature;
• there is a low risk of repetition;
• the registrant has shown good insight; and
• the registrant has undertaken appropriate remediation.

15. The Panel was conscious that it could conclude the case on an expedited basis, based on the terms of the draft Consent Order, subject to variation if appropriate or reject the proposal and set the case down for a full substantive hearing.

16. The Panel noted that the Allegation has been admitted in full and concluded that, based on the documentary evidence, the particulars of the Allegation were capable of being found proved on the balance of probabilities.

17. The Registrant had demonstrated an appropriate level of insight and recognised the serious nature of the Allegation from an early stage of the proceedings, which the Panel found to be a mitigating feature of this matter. The Panel accepted that she had not identified her profession or her workplace via her postings on social media, and there was no suggestion that patient safety had been impacted by her conduct. Notwithstanding this, the Panel considered that regulated professionals should be aware that their conduct on social media platforms, even if in a private capacity, can impact upon the trust and confidence that the public has in their profession.

18. In all the circumstances, the Panel concluded that approval of the proposed Consent Order was both proportionate and appropriate. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant’s actions are unlikely to be repeated. The Registrant has taken down the social media posts involved in the complaint and is conscious of the need to ensure that her public and private conduct befits the profession of a Biomedical Scientist.  Although her behaviour reflected poorly on her personal standing as a Biomedical Scientist and the profession as a whole, it did not directly undermine patient care. The Panel noted that the Registrant had taken steps to reflect on her actions and has expressed remorse and a commitment to learn from the experience. Furthermore, the Registrant’s engagement during these regulatory proceedings strongly demonstrates a commitment to upholding, in future, high standards expected of registered professionals.

19. There is a legitimate public interest in avoiding a substantive hearing in circumstances where full admissions have been made to an Allegation and where the Registrant has consented to being made subject to an appropriate sanction, in this case a Caution Order.  The Panel gave careful consideration to the term of the Order, having regard to the Sanctions Policy, but concluded that a Caution Order for a period of 2 years adequately reflected the seriousness of the Registrant’s unacceptable behaviour. This period would also acknowledge the low risk of repetition in light of her engagement with the regulatory process and the level and scope of her insight. It is proportionate and would not undermine public protection or the wider public interest. The Panel took the view that a Conditions of Practice Order would not be appropriate because practice restrictions are not required and that a Suspension Order would be disproportionate and punitive.

20. The Panel approved the proposed order by consent and imposed a Caution Order on the Registrant’s registration for a period of 2 years.

Order

The Consent Order agreed to by the HCPC and the Registrant be approved and that Registrant be subject to a Caution Order for a period of 2 years.

Notes

No notes available

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Miss Helen Jones

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
03/02/2020 Conduct and Competence Committee Consent Order Hearing Caution