Ms Alice Ellis

Profession: Paramedic

Registration Number: PA37676

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 21/06/2021 End: 17:00 24/06/2021

Location: Virtual hearing - Video conference

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Caution

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Allegation

The allegation against the registrant is as follows:

Whilst registered as a Paramedic you:

1. On or about 21 March 2017, submitted an assignment as part of the requirements for the NQCG3135 Assessment and Learning in Practice Settings module at the University of Southampton (“the University”) entitled “Reflective Report” (“the Assignment”) in circumstances where you:

a. had reviewed an answer previously submitted by Paramedic A (“the Answer”);and/or

b. used content from the Answer in your preparation of the Assignment;

c. purported that the Assignment was your own work.

2. Your actions in paragraph 1 above were:

a. in breach of the University’s Regulations Governing Academic Integrity;

b. dishonest in that you:

i. submitted the Assignment knowing that it was not all your own work; and/or

ii. intended to create the impression that the Assignment submitted was wholly your own work when it was not.

3. The matters set out in paragraph 1 and/ or 2 above constitute misconduct.

4. By reason of your misconduct, your fitness to practise is impaired.

 

Finding

Background

1.The Registrant was a Band 6 Paramedic employed by South Central Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust.

2.Between 4 November 2016 and the 4 September 2017, the Registrant was enrolled at the University of Southampton on the Assessment in Learning and Practice Module. This is a professional mentoring qualification. The qualification was required for the Registrant to perform mentoring responsibilities under the HCPC Standards of Conduct Performance and Ethics.

3.The Registrant submitted an assignment for the above module on 21 March 2017. Upon review by the University, the module showed a 97% degree of similarity with a reflective journal submitted by Paramedic A on 28 November 2016.

4.An internal investigation concerning the Registrant’s alleged plagiarism was conducted by Dr Sue Faulds on behalf of the University of Southampton on 20 November 2017. Dr Faulds is a Senior Lecturer at the University of York in the Department of Health Sciences and Subject Lead for Post Registration Education. At the material time, she was employed by the University of Southampton. Her report was dated 18 January 2018.

5.Following the investigation, on 21 May 2018, the University made a fitness to practise referral to the HCPC regarding the Registrant, resulting in these proceedings.

6.The HCPC provided the Panel with a bundle of documents, including the statement of Dr Sue Faulds together with documents which she exhibited, including her report. Also provided was a statement by Paramedic A. Dr Faulds and Paramedic A gave oral evidence to the Panel.

7.The Registrant provided the Panel with a statement dated 19 June 2021 and a number of supportive testimonials. The Registrant gave oral evidence to the Panel.

Assessment of the witnesses

8.The Panel found Dr Faulds to be a highly professional witness and her evidence to be entirely objective. Her evidence was not challenged in any material particular and the Panel accepted her evidence in its entirety.

9.The Panel found Paramedic A to be a credible witness. He confirmed the contents of his witness statement. He had limited additional recollection of relevant events and was unwilling to speculate on any matters outside his direct knowledge. The Panel accepted his evidence.

10.The Panel did not find the Registrant to be a credible or reliable witness. She was adamant in her evidence about extraneous circumstances but evasive when it came to explaining how her submitted work was virtually identical to that of Paramedic A. The Panel took the view that she relied on irrelevant information and details in an attempt to distract from the essential issues, which she was unable or unwilling to explain. She gave no credible explanation as to how it came about that 97 per cent of her submitted work was identical to that of Paramedic A and fell back on the explanation that it was coincidental or an accident.

Burden and standard of proof

11.The Panel was mindful that the burden of proof was on the HCPC and that the civil standard of proof applied, so the particulars of the allegation must be proved on the balance of probabilities.

12.The Panel took into account submissions of Mr Lloyd on behalf of the HCPC and the Registrant’s submissions. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.


Decision on Facts

Whilst registered as a paramedic you:

Particular 1

1.On or about 21 March 2017, submitted an assignment as part of the requirements for the NQCG3135 Assessment and Learning in Practice Settings module at the University of Southampton (“the University”) entitled “Reflective Report” (“The Assignment”) in circumstances where you:

a.had reviewed an answer previously submitted by Paramedic A (“the Answer”); Proved
b.used content from the Answer in your preparation of the Assignment; Proved
c.purported that the Assignment was your own work.Proved

13.The Panel heard evidence from Paramedic A that he had undertaken a series of vocational modules at the University of Southampton between 2015 and 2017. One of the modules was entitled “Assessment and Learning in Practice Settings”. This module included the submission of a written portfolio to demonstrate how the student provided mentoring support to a student paramedic and a final reflective journal. He had completed and submitted his reflective journal to the University in November 2016. His work was duly passed.

14.Paramedic A stated that sometime prior to March 2017 he was asked by the Registrant, and agreed, to be her mentor. She had told him that she was struggling with the final written assessment for the same module which he had already undertaken. At the crew room of the Didcot Resource Centre, on a date which he was unable to recall, he showed the Registrant his written essay. Using the Registrant’s laptop, he logged into the University’s online portal, using his own username and password. He could not recall whether he logged out of the portal or not and could not state whether the essay remained on the Registrant’s laptop.

15.The Registrant agreed that Paramedic A had shown her his essay. She disagreed that he accessed the essay on her laptop but stated that he used another laptop, possibly from the Resource Centre. She said that she had made bullet points on her laptop whilst reading his essay. She denied downloading his essay on her laptop or making any kind of copy.

16.At the outset of the hearing, the Registrant admitted that she “reviewed an answer previously submitted by Paramedic A (“the Answer”)” as alleged in particular 1a of the allegation. The Panel found that particular proved on the evidence of Paramedic A and the Registrant’s oral evidence which was consistent with her admission at the outset.

17.At the outset of the hearing, the Registrant admitted particular 1b of the allegation which alleges that she “used content from the Answer in your preparation of the Assignment”. In her written statement and oral evidence, the Registrant admitted that she had made notes when reading Paramedic A’s essay and had used these notes when preparing her own essay for submission. Particular 1b was therefore proved by the Registrant’s own admissions. However, the evidence in relation to this particular went far beyond the Registrant’s admissions, given that, according to the unchallenged evidence of Dr Faulds, 97 per cent of the Registrant’s work replicated that of Paramedic A’s written work. The Panel had sight of both the essays and were able to confirm the extent of the replication for themselves.

18.At the outset of the hearing, the Registrant admitted particular 1c of rhe allegation which alleges that she “purported that the Assignment was your own work”. Dr Faulds gave evidence, which was not challenged and which the Panel accepted, that the Registrant could not have submitted her work on the University Portal without ticking the relevant box which contained a declaration to that effect. Dr Faulds provided the Panel with a copy of the standard declaration in question. The Registrant stated in her evidence that she could not recollect having made such a declaration. However, she asserted in her evidence that the work which she had submitted was indeed her own work. Accordingly particular 1c is proved.

Particular 2

Your actions in paragraph 1 above were:

a.in breach of the University’s Regulations Governing Academic Integrity;Proved
b.dishonest in that you:
i.submitted the Assignment knowing that it was not all your own work; and/or;Proved
ii.intended to create the impression that the Assignment submitted was wholly your own work when it was not. Proved

19.The Registrant admitted particular 2a of the allegation at the outset of the hearing. The Registrant repeated her admission in her oral evidence. Her admission was consistent with the evidence of Dr Faulds, which the Panel accepted. Therefore, the Panel found particular 2a proved.

20.With regard to particulars 2b (i) and (ii) of the allegation, Dr Faulds gave evidence that the University used specialist software to detect plagiarism, called Turnitin. Her evidence, which the Panel accepted, was that the software had detected a 97% match of the Registrant’s work with that submitted by Paramedic A.

21.The Registrant did not dispute the evidence of Dr Faulds. Nevertheless, she asserted that the work which she had submitted was her own work and the fact that it was almost identical to Paramedic A’s work was coincidental or accidental. She was cross-examined by Mr Lloyd on the fact that there was not a single reference in her work which was not the same as that used by Paramedic A, even to the extent of citing the same date in 24 November 2016 when the source had been accessed. It was pointed out that her work contained identical errors of syntax and grammar as appeared in the work of Paramedic A. The Registrant was unable to provide any explanation for these instances of her work apparently replicating to the letter that of Paramedic A.

22.The Panel noted the Registrant’s evidence that she had been unaware of the existence of Turnitin, which the Panel considered to be relevant when considering the submission by Ms Anderson on her behalf that she would not be so “stupid” as to submit work which could readily be detected as having been plagiarised.

23.The Panel noted that the Registrant had not only seen Paramedic A’s written work before submitting her own but could have had the opportunity to retain it on her laptop. The Panel rejected her evidence that when preparing her own written work she relied only on some bullet points that she had made when reading the work of Paramedic A. The use of some bullet points could not possibly explain how only 3% of her work differed from that of Paramedic A. The Panel found her explanation to be quite simply unbelievable.

24.In the Panel’s judgement, the Registrant knowingly and deliberately attempted to pass off the work of Paramedic A as her own and that in so doing she was dishonest. Having determined the Registrant’s state of mind, the Panel decided that in the standards of ordinary, decent people, the actions of the Registrant were dishonest.


Statutory Grounds

25.The Panel went on to consider whether the facts found proved, or any of them, amounted to misconduct, as alleged in particular 3 of the allegation.

26.The Panel carefully considered the submissions on behalf of the HCPC and the Registrant respectively. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

27.The Panel was mindful that this was a matter for the Panel’s professional judgement, there being no standard or burden of proof.

28.The Panel took into account that misconduct was defined in Roylance v General Medical Council (no 2) [2001] 1 AC 311 as:

“a word of general effect, involving some act or omission which falls short of what would be proper in the circumstances. The standard of propriety may often be found by reference to the rules and standards ordinarily required to be followed by a (medical) practitioner in the particular circumstances”.

29.The Panel considered that the Registrant’s dishonest conduct was in breach of Standard 9.1 of the HCPC Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics (2016) which states “You must make sure that your conduct justifies the public’s trust and confidence in you and your profession”. The Panel was in no doubt that the Registrant’s conduct fell seriously short of the standards to be expected of her in the circumstances and thereby constituted misconduct.

Decision on Impairment

30.The Panel took into account the Registrant’s personal reflective statement dated 23 June 2021 and her disquisition on academic integrity entitled “Consideration and Analysis of Dishonesty, Lying and Plagiarism”.

31.The Panel gave careful consideration to the submissions on behalf of the HCPC and the Registrant respectively.

32.The Panel took into account the HCPTS Practice Note on Finding that Fitness to Practise is “Impaired” and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

33.In determining whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired, the Panel took into account both the “personal” and “public” components of impairment. The “personal” component relates to the Registrant’s own practice as a paramedic, including any evidence of insight and remorse and efforts towards remediation. The “public” component includes the need to protect service users, declare and uphold proper standards of behaviour on the part of registrants and maintain public confidence in the profession and the Regulator.

34.With regard to the “personal” component, the Panel found the Registrant had developed some insight into the negative effects of her plagiarism for her own reputation and that of the profession. She said that she was mortified by the position in which she found herself and expressed remorse for what she had done. She also expressed the wish to apologise to Paramedic A.

35.Having regard to the negative impact of these proceedings on the Registrant, and her reaction to it, the Panel considered that there was no likelihood that she would repeat such misconduct in the future.

36.Accordingly, the Panel found that her fitness to practise was not currently impaired having regard to the “personal” component.

37.With regard to the “public” component, the Panel took into account that the Registrant was in a leadership position and aspired to act as a mentor to other paramedics. She undertook the modules at Southampton University with a view to further her career as a paramedic. By plagiarising the work of her colleague, she presented as a negative role model to other paramedics by undermining the integrity of the academic process, compromising Paramedic A and damaging her own reputation and that of her profession.

38.In the circumstances, the Panel determined that a finding of current impairment on public interest grounds was required both as a deterrent to others and to maintain public confidence in the integrity of the academic process and the reputation of the profession.

39.Accordingly, the Panel found that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired on public interest grounds.

Decision on Sanction

40.The Panel carefully considered the submissions on behalf of the HCPC and the Registrant respectively.

41.The Panel took into account the HCPC’s Sanctions Guidance (2019) and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel was mindful that the purpose of a sanction is not to punish the Registrant but to protect the public and the wider public interest in upholding proper standards and maintaining the reputation of the profession. The Panel applied the principle of proportionality, balancing the interests of the Registrant with those of the public, and considered the available sanctions in ascending order.

42.The main aggravating factor in this case is that the Registrant was in a leadership role in which she aspired to be a mentor to other paramedics. Her dishonesty in committing plagiarism set a negative example to other paramedics, which was aggravated by her leadership role.

43.The mitigating factors are that :

•The Registrant had a previously unblemished record as a paramedic and has provided a large number of testimonials from colleagues as to her excellent record and clinical competence as a paramedic

•The Registrant has expressed remorse and the desire to make amends for her misconduct

•The Registrant has shown, in the course of this hearing, developing insight into her misconduct and its negative implications for public confidence and the reputation of her profession

44.The Registrant’s misconduct was too serious for the Panel to take no further action.

45.The Panel carefully considered the indicative features for imposing a caution order and decided that they apply to a large extent in this case. In particular, this was an isolated incident of misconduct which is very unlikely to be repeated. It did not involve the Registrant’s clinical practice which appears to be of a high standard. Whilst there has been a finding of dishonesty, the Panel considered it to be at the lower end and did not bring into question the Registrant’s clinical competence or have implications for public safety.

46.In deciding the length of a caution order, the Panel sought to balance the need to send a sufficiently robust message by way of a deterrent against such misconduct to the profession with fairness to the Registrant.

47.In all the circumstances, the Panel considered that the appropriate and proportionate sanction was a caution order for a period of two years.

48.For the sake of completeness, the Panel did not consider that a Conditions of Practice Order would be relevant or appropriate as there were no concerns about the Registrant’s clinical competence. The Panel considered that a Suspension Order would be disproportionate.

Order

That the Registrar is directed to annotate the register entry of Ms Alice Ellis with a caution which is to remain on the register for a period of 2 years from the date this order comes into effect.

Notes

No notes available

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Ms Alice Ellis

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
21/06/2021 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Caution
16/11/2020 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Adjourned