Fiona M Watson
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Remote hearing conducted via videoconference
1. In line with the current guidance from HM Government in relation to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic, this hearing was conducted by videoconference in accordance with Rule 2A of the Health and Care Professions Council (Investigating Committee) (Procedure) Rules 2003 (as amended) (“the Rules”).
2. The Panel was provided with a copy of the amended Notice of today’s hearing, dated 6 August 2021, which confirmed the date, time and nature of today’s hearing and explained that it would be conducted on the papers unless a virtual hearing was requested.
3. This notice was sent to the Registrant by email to the email address she has previously provided to the HCPC. The Panel had sight of the Microsoft outlook confirmation that the email had been delivered to the recipient’s email address.
4. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and was satisfied that service had been effected in accordance with Rule 3 of the Rules.
Proceeding with a hearing on the papers
5. The Panel received a skeleton argument dated 4 August 2021 from Capsticks LLP, on behalf of the HCPC, in which they invited the Panel to review the Interim Order in this case on a documents-only basis.
6. The Panel noted that the Registrant has not responded to the amended Notice of hearing dated 6 August 2021.
7. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and was mindful that the discretion to proceed in the absence of a Registrant is one which should be exercised with the utmost care and caution. The Panel also had regard to the HCPTS Practice Note entitled “Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant”.
8. The Panel noted that the Registrant did not attend and was not represented at the hearing on 22 May 2020 when the Interim Suspension Order was imposed. The Panel also noted that the Registrant has not engaged with the three previous review hearings that took place on 16 November 2020, 5 March 2021 and 28 May 2021.
9. The Panel decided to proceed with this review hearing on the papers in the absence of the Registrant for the following reasons:
• Having been informed in the Notice of hearing that the Registrant could request to participate in this virtual hearing the Registrant has not done so;
• The Registrant has not made an application to adjourn today’s hearing. There is nothing to suggest that an adjournment would result in the attendance or engagement of the Registrant on a future date;
• All reasonable steps have been taken to serve the Registrant with Notice of this hearing by email and there is evidence that this email Notice was delivered electronically;
• The Registrant did not attend the Interim Order Application hearing or any of the subsequent Interim Order Review hearings;
• The Registrant has not engaged with the HCPC and has chosen not to submit any written representations for this hearing;
• The Registrant has not fully engaged with her employer, the South Tyneside & Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust (“the Trust”), during its investigation and subsequent disciplinary process;
• The Panel considers that the Registrant has voluntarily absented herself;
• There is public interest in this mandatory review proceeding without delay and that the public interest, in the circumstances outlined above, outweighs any potential disadvantage to the Registrant in this instance.
Application for a private hearing
10. In their skeleton argument, the HCPC applied for the entirety of the hearing to be held in private. This was because the matters under consideration are intrinsically linked to the Registrant’s health and personal circumstances.
11. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and to the HCPTS practice note on holding hearings in private.
12. The Panel noted that the previous hearings in relation to this matter had been held in private but exercised its own judgement in relation to the application made today.
13. The Panel was satisfied that the references to the Registrant’s health are such that the entire hearing should be conducted in private under Rule 8(1)(a) of Rules in order to protect the Registrant’s private life.
The Panel’s Decision
14. The Panel accepted the advice it received from the Legal Assessor and has read and taken into consideration the HCPTS Practice Note on Interim Orders. Accordingly, the Panel has approached the decisions it is required to make applying the following principles:
• By virtue of Article 31(2) of the Health and Care Professions Order 2001 there are three grounds that can lead to the imposition of an Interim Order. They are that an Interim Order is, (i) necessary for the protection of members of the public; (ii) otherwise in the public interest; and (iii) in the interests of the Registrant;
• The Panel is not in a position to make any findings of fact. Its role is to undertake a risk assessment based on the information presented in support of the application for an Interim Order;
• The Panel should consider the nature and seriousness of the allegations made against the Registrant.
• The Panel should consider the reliability and credibility of the evidence presented by the HCPC in support of the application for an Interim Order;
• The Panel must have regard to the proportionality of any Interim Order imposed. It is necessary for the Panel to bear in mind the seriousness of an interference with the Registrant’s ability to practise when nothing has been proved against her. As an Interim Conditions of Practice Order is less restrictive than an Interim Suspension Order, if the Panel determines that an Interim Order is required, it must first consider whether the reasons requiring that Order can be satisfactorily addressed by the imposition of an Interim Conditions of Practice Order. An Interim Suspension Order should only be made if an Interim Order is required and the imposition of an Interim Conditions of Practice Order is not appropriate.
15. In the Panel’s view, the allegations against the Registrant are of the utmost gravity. Furthermore, the Panel was satisfied that the information contained in the hearing bundle appeared to be both reliable and credible. The Panel noted that the Registrant’s employment at the Trust was terminated on 2 June 2021 with immediate effect. The Panel has no information in relation to the Registrant’s current circumstances.
16. The Panel had careful regard to the decisions and reasoning of previous panels. The Panel was mindful that it must exercise its own judgement and carry out a comprehensive review. However, in the absence of any new information, the Panel was satisfied that an Interim Order remains necessary on the grounds of public protection for the same reasons as identified by the previous review Panel on 28 May 2021. In reaching this decision, the Panel was satisfied that if the Registrant were to be permitted to practise without restriction there would be an obvious risk to members of the public.
17. The Panel was further satisfied that an Interim Order remains necessary in the wider public interest, namely to maintain public confidence in the profession and to promote and maintain proper professional standards. The Panel concluded that a reasonable member of the public with full knowledge of the facts of this case would be very concerned if the Registrant were allowed to return to unrestricted practice whilst theses very serious allegations were being investigated by the HCPC.
18. Finally, the Panel was satisfied on the basis of the available evidence in relation to the Registrant’s health, that an Interim Order is also necessary in her own interest at this time.
19. The Panel therefore concluded that an Interim Order remains necessary on all three of the statutory grounds.
20. Having determined that an Interim Order remains necessary, the Panel next considered whether an Interim Conditions of Practice Order would adequately address the risks identified and meet the wider public interest concerns. However, the Panel decided that it was not possible to formulate workable conditions that would adequately protect the public from the attitudinal concerns identified in this case. The Panel was of the view that the level of supervision required would be tantamount to an Interim Suspension Order. Furthermore, given the nature and seriousness of the allegations, the Panel concluded that an Interim Conditions of Practice Order would not meet the wider public interest concerns in this case. In reaching this decision, the Panel also had regard to the practicality of such an Order. The Panel noted that the Registrant has not engaged with the HCPC investigation and therefore it cannot be confident that she would comply with an Interim Conditions of Practice Order if workable conditions could
21. The Panel therefore concluded that an Interim Suspension Order remains the necessary and appropriate order. In reaching this decision, the Panel acknowledged that the continuation of the Interim Suspension Order will prevent the Registrant from working as an ODP and will therefore continue to have an adverse impact upon her both financially and professionally. However, in all of the circumstances, the Panel was satisfied that the need to protect the public and maintain public confidence in the profession outweighed the Registrant’ s own interests in this regard.
22. The Panel therefore decided to confirm and continue the current Interim Suspension Order.
ORDER: The Interim Order of Suspension is confirmed.
This Order will be reviewed by the Investigating Committee no later than 23 November 2021, or earlier if new evidence which is relevant to the Order becomes available.
History of Hearings for Fiona M Watson
|Date||Panel||Hearing type||Outcomes / Status|
|23/08/2021||Investigating Committee||Interim Order Review||Hearing has not yet been held|
|28/05/2021||Investigating Committee||Interim Order Review||Interim Suspension|
|05/03/2021||Investigating Committee||Interim Order Review||Interim Suspension|
|16/11/2020||Investigating Committee||Interim Order Review||Interim Suspension|
|22/05/2020||Investigating Committee||Interim Order Application||Interim Suspension|