Ms Rachael Thompson
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Your fitness to practise as a Physiotherapist is impaired by reason of your health.
1. The Panel was provided with a copy of the Notice sent by first class post to the Registrant’s registered address on 14 January 2020, setting out the time, date and venue for this review and the possibility of the Panel proceeding without the Registrant in the event that she did not attend. The Panel was provided with proof of postage by way of a signed declaration by an HCPC employee. The Panel was thus satisfied with service in this case.
Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant
2. The Registrant did not attend the review hearing, nor did she respond to the Notice of Hearing. Her last direct communication with the HCPC was an email dated 23 October 2016, in which she stated that she had left the country to engage in private health treatment.
3. Ms Simpson, on behalf of the HCPC, made an application to proceed in the Registrant’s absence. She told the Panel that there had been no contact from the Registrant since 2016. Ms Simpson said that the Registrant’s mother had in the past informed the HCPC that her daughter had no intention of returning to work as a physiotherapist.
4. When deciding whether to proceed in the absence of the Registrant, the Panel took into account the submissions made by Ms Simpson and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. It bore in mind that, although it had a discretion to proceed in the absence of the Registrant, this discretion should be exercised with the utmost care and caution. The Panel was cognisant of the fact that its purpose was to undertake a statutory review of a Suspension Order before the date on which it was due to expire
5. The Panel noted that the Registrant has not engaged with these proceedings and did not attend the substantive hearing in 2018, or the first review of the substantive order in 2019 and that both hearings went ahead in her absence. The Panel noted that the Registrant had not requested an adjournment. There was, therefore, nothing to suggest the Registrant would attend on another occasion, if this matter were to be adjourned.
6. In light of the Registrant’s complete lack of engagement with the HCPC and these proceedings, the Panel decided that she had voluntarily absented herself and thereby waived her right to be present. The Panel considered there was a public interest in the matter proceeding and it was also in the Registrant’s own interests that the order be reviewed.
7. In all the circumstances, the Panel decided to proceed in the absence of the Registrant.
Application to proceed in private
8. Ms Simpson applied for the entirety of the hearing to be heard in private, on the basis that the Panel was sitting as a panel of the Health Committee and that all matters essentially concerned the Registrant’s health.
9. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. It had regard to the HCPC’s Practice Note: Conducting Hearings in Private. The Panel was of the view that the case exclusively related to matters concerning the Registrant’s health, and as such it was not appropriate for such matters to be aired in public. It was, therefore, satisfied that it was justified to hear the entirety of the case in private, in accordance with Rule 10(1)(a) of the Health Committee (Procedure) Rules 2003.
10. The Panel then considered what sanction was both appropriate and proportionate in all the circumstances and in doing so considered the HCPC Sanctions Policy. The Panel noted that, according to the Registrant in 2016, she would not be practising as a physiotherapist until she has “fully recovered and engaged in course to update my skills …” Ms Simpson informed the Panel that, according to her mother, the Registrant had no intention of returning to work as a Physiotherapist. It was unfortunate that the Registrant had not engaged with the HCPC since that date and that she had not therefore provided any update on her health. In such circumstances it would be wrong for this Panel to take no action or to impose a Caution Order, since neither would address the risks to patients identified.
11. In respect of a Conditions of Practice Order, the Panel agreed with the views of the substantive panel and first reviewing panel, that such an order requires a willingness on the part of the Registrant to comply with conditions and a willingness to make a determined effort to seek and maintain appropriate treatment. In the absence of any engagement from the Registrant since the substantive hearing, or any evidence to demonstrate steps being taken to manage her health, the Panel did not consider that it was possible to formulate workable or verifiable conditions. Furthermore, it was not reassured that the Registrant would be either willing or able to cooperate with such an order.
12. The only other sanction available to the Panel today was that of a Suspension Order. Accordingly, the Panel determined to extend the Suspension Order for a further six months. The Panel considered this to be the minimum necessary to protect the public, whilst giving the Registrant what may be a last opportunity to engage with the HCPC if she wished to do so. However, if she chose not to do so then it will be open to the next reviewing panel to consider a strike off, since by then the Registrant will have been continuously suspended for a period of at least two years. This is by no means meant to bind a future panel, which will make its own assessment at the appropriate time, based on the evidence before it, but the Registrant should be aware that if she fails to engage then she risks being removed from the Register.
13. This Order will be reviewed shortly before its expiry. Although this Panel cannot bind a future reviewing panel, that panel is likely to be assisted by the following:
(i) evidence of the registrant’s current state of health from a suitably qualified medical practitioner;
(ii) evidence of any previous treatment or ongoing treatment during the last 24 months from a suitably qualified medical practitioner;
(iii) evidence of any roles (paid or unpaid) she has undertaken since leaving the Trust and testimonials arising;
(iv) evidence that the Registrant has kept her physiotherapy knowledge and skills up to date; and
(v) attendance by the Registrant in person or by telephone.
Order: The Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Ms Rachael Thompson for a further period of six months upon the expiry of the current Order.
This order will be reviewed again before its expiry on 28 September 2020.