Mrs Hazel Bryce

Profession: Occupational therapist

Registration Number: OT33284

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 25/09/2020 End: 17:00 25/09/2020

Location: Hearing taking place virtually

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Struck off

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Allegation

Whilst registered with the Health and Care Professions Council as an Occupational Therapist and working for ATOS Healthcare, you, on 14 January 2019, at Sheffield Crown Court, were convicted of:

1. Dishonestly making false representation to make gain for self/another or cause loss to other/expose to risk, contrary to section 1 and 2 of the Fraud Act 2006.

2. By reason of conviction, your fitness to practise is impaired.

 

Finding

Preliminary Matters
Service
1. The Panel was provided with a signed certificate as proof that the Notice of Hearing had been sent in an email, owing to the COVID-19 Pandemic, on 23 July 2020, to the email address shown for the Registrant on the HCPC register.

2. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and 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) (‘the Rules’).
Proceeding in absence of the Registrant

3. Ms Sheridan, on behalf of the HCPC, made an application for the hearing to proceed in the Registrant’s absence as permitted by Rule 11 of the Rules.

4. 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 for the following reasons:
a) the Panel was satisfied that the Notice had been served in accordance with the Rules and the Registrant had been afforded over two months notice of this hearing;
b) the Panel noted that the Registrant has not engaged in the regulatory proceedings since she self-referred in March 2019. There has been no application to adjourn and no indication from the Registrant that she would be willing or able to attend on an alternative date and therefore re-listing this final hearing would serve no useful purpose. The Panel was of the view that the Registrant had voluntarily absented herself from the proceedings;
c) the Panel recognised that there may be some disadvantage to the Registrant in not being able to give evidence or make oral submissions. However, the Panel was satisfied that the Registrant had an opportunity to attend and/or make written representations and she had not done so; and
d) as this is a substantive hearing there is a strong public interest in ensuring that it is considered expeditiously. It is also in the Registrant’s own interest that the allegation is heard as soon as possible.

Background
6. The Registrant is registered with the HCPC as an Occupational Therapist.

7. The Registrant commenced working for Sheffield Health and Social Case NHS Foundation Trust (‘the Trust’) in December 2003. The Registrant started her employment as part of the Sheffield Outreach Team as an Occupational Therapist. During the course of her employment with the Trust, she worked her way up to the level of Acting Assistant Sheffield Outreach Team Manager. Shortly after commencing employment for the Trust, the Registrant was furnished with a copy of the Trust’s ‘Principle Statement of Terms and Conditions’. 

8. During the mid part of 2015 it became necessary for the Trust to conduct an internal management investigation in regard to the Registrant. As a result of the investigation the Registrant was suspended from employment, on full pay, by the Trust on or around 20 August 2015.

9. At the same time that the Registrant was handed the Trust suspension letter, she was also provided with a copy of the Trust’s disciplinary policy document, which confirmed information in relation to her suspension. 

10. In March 2016, it was brought to the Trust’s attention that the Registrant was working for another employer, Atos Healthcare (‘Atos’), whilst suspended.

11. On 27 April 2016, NHS Counter Fraud informed the HCPC that the Registrant was working for Atos as an Occupational Therapist at a DWP PIP Assessment Centre in Sheffield and this was investigated because the Registrant was employed by the Trust and was also working full-time for Atos, contrary to the terms of her employment.

12. On 14 January 2019 at Sheffield Crown Court, the Registrant was convicted of Fraud in relation to her conduct in working for a different employer contrary to her terms of employment. The Registrant received a Community Order for 12 months, ordered to conduct unpaid work for 80 hours and was subject to a Rehabilitation Activity Requirement of 10 days.

13. On 07 March 2019, the Registrant completed a self-referral form and sent it to the HCPC. In the form she declared that she had been found guilty of a criminal offence and that she had been dismissed from her employer (the Trust). She also provided a copy of the Sheffield Crown Court Indictment.         

Decision on Facts          
14. Ms Sheridan opened and summarised the HCPC’s case.

15. The HCPC relied upon the certificate of conviction, as proof of the Registrant’s conviction, and the documents contained with the HCPC bundle.

Panel’s Approach
16. The Panel was aware that the burden of proving the facts was on the HCPC. The Registrant did not have to prove anything and the individual particulars of the Allegation could only be found proved if the Panel was satisfied on the balance of probabilities. 

17. In reaching its decision the Panel took into account the documentary evidence contained within the HCPC bundles, as well as the oral submissions made by Ms Sheridan.

18. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and had regard to the HCPTS Practice Note ‘Conviction and Caution Allegations’.

Particular 1 – found proved
Whilst registered with the Health and Care Professions Council as an Occupational Therapist and working for ATOS Healthcare, you, on 14 January 2019, at Sheffield Crown Court, were convicted of:
1. Dishonestly making false representation to make gain for self/another or cause loss to other/expose to risk, contrary to section 1 and 2 of the Fraud Act 2006.

19. The Panel had regard to the Rules and in particular Rule 10 (1)(d) which, in terms of the evidence required to prove a conviction, states: “where the registrant has been convicted of a criminal offence, a certified copy of the certificate of conviction (or, in Scotland, an extract conviction) shall be admissible as proof of that conviction and of the findings of fact upon which it was based”.

20. The Panel accepted the documentary evidence, noting the Certificate of Conviction contained within the HCPC documentary bundle. The Panel was therefore satisfied, to the required standard, that the facts were proved.

21. Accordingly, Particular 1 was found proved.

Decision on Grounds
22. The Panel next considered the statutory grounds. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

23. The Panel was satisfied that a conviction is one of the statutory grounds under Article 22(1)(a) of the Health Professions Order 2001.

Decision on Impairment
24. The Panel then went on to consider whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired by reason of her conviction.
25. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and had regard to the HCPTS Practice Note on ‘Finding that Fitness to Practice is Impaired’.

26. The Panel considered all of the evidence before it, including the documentary evidence contained within the HCPC bundle and the submissions made by Ms Sheridan, on behalf of the HCPC.

27. The Panel first considered whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise was impaired on the personal component.

28. In addressing the personal component of impairment, the Panel asked itself whether the Registrant is liable, now and in the future, to repeat conduct of the kind that led to her conviction. In reaching its decision the Panel had particular regard to the issues of insight, remorse and remediation.

29. The Panel noted that in the case of CHRE v NMC & Grant [2011] EWHC 927 (Admin) Mrs Justice Cox stated:
“When considering whether or not fitness to practise is currently impaired, the level of insight shown by the practitioner is central to a proper determination of that issue.”

30. The Panel also had careful regard to Silber J’s guidance in Cohen v GMC [2008] EWHC 581 (Admin) that panels should take account of:
• whether the conduct which led to the charge is easily remediable;
• whether it has been remedied; and
• whether it is highly unlikely to be repeated.

31. The Panel noted that since making a self-referral to the HCPC in March 2019, the Registrant had not engaged in the regulatory proceedings. The Panel also noted that the Registrant’s conviction is for a serious matter and concerns dishonest conduct. The Panel was disappointed that the Registrant had not come before her regulator to explain her conduct and the circumstances that led to her conviction. The Panel had regard to Recorder Doig’s sentencing remarks where he stated ‘the evidence against you on the charge you faced was, in my view, overwhelming. It is unfortunate that you required a jury trial to confirm that position’.  Taking all of these things together, and in the absence of up-to-date information on the Registrant’s current situation, the Panel was of the view that it was unable to conclude that the Registrant had demonstrated any insight in respect of these matters or the conduct which led to her conviction.

32. The Panel also concluded that, because it had no information before it from the Registrant regarding her current circumstances, it could not be satisfied that she would not repeat the behaviour, which led to her conviction and thereby determined that there remained a risk of repetition.

33. Further, the Panel noted that whilst dishonesty matters are difficult to remediate, the Registrant had not provided any information in respect of remorse or steps that she may have taken to address the underlying conduct, which led to her conviction.

34. The Panel next considered whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired on public interest grounds.

35. In relation to the public component of fitness to practise, the Panel had careful regard to the critically important public policy issues identified by Silber J in the case of Cohen when he said:
“Any approach to the issue of whether.... fitness to practise should be regarded as ‘impaired’ must take account of ‘the need to protect the individual patient, and the collective need to maintain confidence in the profession as well as declaring and upholding proper standards of conduct and behaviour.”

36. The Panel had no doubt that, in the circumstances of this case, there was nothing before it which suggested that any service users or patients had been placed at risk of harm and therefore this case did not require a finding of current impairment on the ground of public protection. 

37. The Panel was of the view however that the reasonably informed member of the public would consider the Registrant’s conviction to be serious. She has been convicted of a dishonesty offence and although the Panel noted the recorder’s remarks in respect of her motivations for the offence not being for financial gain, the Panel was of the view that the Registrant has breached a fundamental tenet of the profession. The Panel was also of the view that the public have to be able to trust healthcare professionals, including Occupational Therapists, and having been convicted of a dishonesty offence, the Panel was satisfied that the public would determine that it could no longer trust the Registrant. Further, the Panel also considered that public trust and confidence in the wider profession, alongside the need to maintain confidence in the profession and to declare and uphold proper standards, would be undermined if a finding of impairment were not made in the circumstances of this case.

38. The Panel therefore concluded that the Registrant is impaired on both the public and personal components.

Decision on Sanction
Panel’s approach
39. In reaching its decision on sanction, the Panel took into account the submissions made by Ms Sheridan, on behalf of the HCPC.

40. The Panel also referred to the ‘Sanctions Policy’ issued by the HCPC.

41. The Panel had in mind that the purpose of sanction was not to punish the Registrant, but to protect the public, maintain public confidence in the profession and maintain proper standards of conduct and performance. The Panel was also aware of the need to ensure that any sanction is proportionate.

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

43. The Panel considered the aggravating factors in this case to be that:
i. the Registrant’s dishonest conduct was deliberate, and occurred over many months. She completed her application form for Atos and during the months she worked for Atos she had ample time to make admissions and she did not do so;
ii. her conduct amounts to a breach of trust and trust is a fundamental tenet of the profession;
iii. she failed to engage with the Trust, whilst they were conducting their investigation, resulting in the Police arresting her;
iv. she has failed to engage in the regulatory process; and
v. the Panel have no evidence of the Registrant having demonstrated any insight, remediation or remorse.

44. The Panel considered whether there were any mitigating factors in this case and determined that there were not.

45. The Panel considered the option of taking no action. This is an exceptional outcome and the Panel was of the view that the circumstances of this case were not exceptional. The Panel decided that the option of taking no action was not sufficient to uphold the public interest in this case.

46. The Panel next considered the option of a Caution Order. The Panel considered the guidance in the Sanctions Policy that “A Caution Order is an appropriate sanction for cases, where the lapse is isolated, limited, or relatively minor in nature, there is a low risk of recurrence, the registrant has shown insight and taken appropriate remedial action”.

47. The Panel was of the view that such a sanction would not reflect the seriousness of the findings in this case and therefore determined that a Caution Order was not appropriate. The Panel was also of the view that public confidence in the profession, and the HCPC as its Regulator, would be undermined if the Registrant’s behaviour were dealt with by way of a caution.

48. The Panel next considered whether to place conditions on the Registrant’s registration. As identified at the impairment stage, the Panel is of the view that dishonesty is difficult to remediate. Further, the Panel was also of the view that it would be difficult to find conditions that address the Registrant’s conduct. Moreover, given that the Registrant has failed to engage with the regulatory process, and has failed to provide any information about her current circumstances, the Panel determined that a conditions of practice order was not workable, proportionate or appropriate.

49. The Panel next considered a suspension order. The Panel considered that a suspension order was not the appropriate order in this case. The Registrant has not demonstrated any insight into her conduct or conviction, nor has she provided any information regarding remorse or attempts to address the conduct that led to her conviction. Given the seriousness of the Registrant’s conviction and her lack of engagement in the proceedings, the Panel was of the view that public confidence in the profession and regulatory process would be undermined if a suspension order was imposed.

50. The Panel next considered a striking off order. The Panel was aware that this was a sanction of last resort. The Panel noted that the HCPC ‘Sanction Policy’ document states that a striking off order is appropriate where there has been a persistent, deliberate or reckless act involving dishonesty. The Panel was of the view that the circumstances of this case are such that the Registrant acted in a prolonged and deliberately dishonest manner. She made a false declaration on her job application form to Atos, knowing that she was suspended from working by the Trust. The Panel was also particularly concerned by the Registrant’s attitude. She was requested to attend for voluntary interview by the Trust, on three separate occasions, and was finally arrested by the Police. Further, notwithstanding the overwhelming evidence against her, she elected to have a jury trial, which resulted in a finding of guilt being made against her and she has failed, but for her self-referral, to engage in any meaningful way in the regulatory proceedings. The Panel was of the view that these factors, taken together, demonstrate a Registrant who lacks any insight, has demonstrated no remorse for her actions and one who has not shown any willingness or intention to resolve matters.

51. The Panel was satisfied that a striking off order was appropriate to protect the public confidence in the profession and the regulatory process and that it would also send a clear message to other professionals.

52. The Panel had regard to the information before it that the Registrant was also in breach of a Caution Order, which was imposed on the 14 September 2018 for a period of three years. The Panel noted the ‘Sanctions Policy’ states that a breach of an existing order would permit a panel to consider escalating any sanction imposed to a higher sanction. However, having determined that it should impose the ultimate sanction, on the facts of this case alone, the Panel was of the view that the breach of the Caution Order did not add anything to its considerations of the facts of this case.

53. In making its decision on sanction, the Panel had regard to the impact of an order on the Registrant. The Panel was of the view that the public interests considerations in this case outweighed any detriment that might be caused, by the imposition of a striking off order, to the Registrant.

54. Accordingly, the Panel made an Order directing the Registrar to strike off the Registrant from the HCPC Register. The Panel also make an Order directing the Registrar to bring the existing Caution Order to an end.

Order

That the Registrar is directed to strike off the name of Mrs Hazel Bryce from the HCPC Register and bring the existing Caution Order to an end.

Notes

Right of Appeal:
You may appeal to the High Court in England and Wales against the Panel’s decision and the order it has made against you.

Under Articles 30(10) and 38 of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001, any appeal must be made to the court not more than 28 days after the date when this notice is served on you.

European alert mechanism:
In accordance with Regulation 67 of the European Union (Recognition of Professional Qualifications) Regulations 2015, the HCPC will inform the competent authorities in all other EEA States that your right to practise has been prohibited.

You may appeal to the County Court against the HCPC’s decision to do so.  Any appeal must be made within 28 days of the date when this notice is served on you. This right of appeal is separate from your right to appeal against the decision and order of the Panel.


Interim Order
Proceeding in absence
1. Ms Sheridan, on behalf of the HCPC, made an application for the hearing, in relation to the imposition of an Interim Order, to proceed in the Registrant’s absence for the reasons outlined previously.

2. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and took into account the guidance as set out in the HCPTS Practice Note “Proceeding in Absence”.

3. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant had been warned in the Notice of Hearing, dated 23 July 2020, that there was a real prospect that an Interim Order application would be made by HCPC, should a substantive finding be made by the Panel.

4. The Panel was therefore satisfied that it was reasonable to conclude that the Registrant’s non-attendance was voluntary and therefore a deliberate waiver of her right to attend and participate in person and determined that it was reasonable and in the public interest to proceed with the hearing for these reasons and those outlined previously.

Decision Interim Order
5. The Panel makes an Interim Suspension Order, for a period of 18 months, under Article 31(2) of the Health Professions Order 2001. For the same reasons given in its determination on sanction, the Panel concluded that an Interim Conditions of Practice Order would not be appropriate. The Panel was of the view that to make no order in this case would be wholly inconsistent with its findings. The Panel concluded that an interim order was necessary for the protection of the public and was also necessary in the public interest. The Panel therefore determined that an eighteen-month Interim Suspension Order is appropriate and proportionate pending the expiration of an appeal period.
6. This order will expire: (if no appeal is made against the Panel’s decision and Order) upon the expiry of the period during which such an appeal could be made; (if an appeal is made against the Panel’s decision and Order) the final determination of that appeal, subject to a maximum period of 18 months.

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Mrs Hazel Bryce

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
20/10/2020 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing Hearing has not yet been held
25/09/2020 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Struck off
13/08/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Caution