Miss Dionne Champion
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Allegation against the Registrant is as follows:
Whilst registered with the Health and Care Professions Council as an Operating Department Practitioner:
- On 22 January 2018 at Exeter Magistrates’ Court you were convicted of having committed fraud between 2 May 2016 and 13 March 2017 in that you dishonestly failed to disclose to Exeter County Council that Person A had not moved into your address, which you were under a legal duty to disclose intending, by that failure, to make a gain, namely the payment of rent, for yourself.
- By reason of your conviction, your fitness to practise as an Operating Department Practitioner is impaired.
1.The Panel considered the email dated 2 August 2021 addressed to the Registrant at her registered email address with the HCPC informing her of the date, time and location of the hearing. Proof of delivery was received by the HCPC mail system and the Registrant has replied to correspondence which refers to the date of the hearing. The Panel concluded that this constituted good service of notice of hearing and complied with the requirements for service.
Proceeding in the absence of the Registrant
2. The Panel noted the e-mail correspondence between the Hearings Team and the Registrant. On 25 August 2021 a Hearings Officer enquired whether the Registrant would be attending the hearing. The Registrant replied on the same day stating that “I will not be attending! I want to end my registration due to ill health!!! This is the third time I’ve said this”. This e-mail followed other correspondence in which the Registrant had stated that she would not attend a hearing.
3. Ms Woolfson submitted that the Panel should proceed with the hearing in the absence of the Registrant. She submitted that the Registrant has chosen not to attend the hearing. The suspension order is due to expire on 2 September and it was in the public interest for the hearing to proceed.
4. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. She referred to the HCPTS Practice Note on Proceeding in Absence and to Adeogba v GMC  EWCA Civ 162. The discretion whether or not to proceed must be exercised with care and having regard to all the circumstances. The Panel should consider the Registrant’s interests, but it should also take into account fairness to the HCPC and the public interest.
5. The Panel decided that it was fair and appropriate to proceed in the absence of the Registrant. The Panel considered the circumstances of the Registrant’s absence. In all her correspondence she is clear that she would not attend a hearing. There was no prospect that an adjournment would secure her attendance. The hearing is a mandatory review of a suspension order which is in place for the protection of the public. It is in the public interest that this review is concluded expeditiously.
6. The Registrant is a registered Operating Department Practitioner. On 19 January 2018, she notified the HCPC of an upcoming court appearance for dishonestly claiming that a second person had moved into her property in order to claim Housing Benefit payments from Exeter City Council.
7. On 22 January 2018, the Registrant pleaded guilty at Exeter Magistrates Court and was convicted of fraud. The value of the fraud was £3,345.30. The Registrant was sentenced to 15 weeks imprisonment, suspended for 12 months.
8. At a final hearing on 2 September 2020 the Panel found the conviction proved by the certified Memorandum of conviction. Having considered the Registrant’s written submissions at the investigation stage, the Final Hearing Panel concluded that the Registrant had not sufficiently and adequately demonstrated that she accepts full responsibility for her dishonest behaviour which led to the conviction, its seriousness and the impact on colleagues, the profession and the public. The Registrant had not shown sufficient insight and reflection into her conviction and the underlying dishonesty, and she had not provided any information of the steps she has taken to remediate her practice. The Final Hearing Panel concluded that the Registrant has in the past and is liable in the future to act dishonestly and that her fitness to practise was impaired on the personal aspect of impairment.
9. The Final Hearing Panel also considered the public component of impairment and noted that the Registrant had been convicted of fraud involving public funds being dishonestly claimed in housing benefit. The Panel decided that to maintain public confidence in the profession and the regulator it was necessary and appropriate to find that the Registrant’s fitness to practise currently impaired. This finding was also required to declare and uphold proper standards.
10. The Final Hearing Panel considered the appropriate and proportionate sanction and decided that a twelve-month Suspension Order was sufficient to protect the public and that this sanction sent an appropriate message to the public and the profession that the Registrant’s behaviour was totally unacceptable.
11. The Final Hearing Panel stated in their determination that a future reviewing Panel might be assisted by the Registrant providing a full, reflective piece demonstrating well developed insight and remediation. Any relevant references or testimonials might also be helpful.
12. The Panel was provided with e-mail correspondence between the Registrant’s case manager and the Registrant relating to the possibility of the Registrant voluntarily removing herself from the Register. On 22 February the Registrant stated that she wanted to “deregister” “due to my failing health”. The Registrant’s case manager wrote to the Registrant on 13 May 2021 explaining the HCPC voluntary removal agreement process and setting out the information that she should provide if she wished the HCPC to consider this option. Under the voluntary removal process it is not sufficient for a Registrant to state that they wish to be removed from the Register. The Registrant must engage with the process and provide written information to the HCPC, including a statement that they admit that their fitness to practise is impaired. The Registrant did not provide the information set out in the letter dated 13 May 2021. On 3 August 2021 she sent an e-mail stating she wanted to cancel her registration and that she would not be attending any hearing.
13. On 25 August 2021 the Case Manager followed up this correspondence with a further e-mail, attaching the letter from 13 May 2021, and inviting the Registrant to provide a written response with the further information. The Case Manager also invited the Registrant to contact her if she wished to discuss the matter. The Registrant replied by e-mail dated 25 August 2021: “This is my second reply today. I do not wish for my registration to be reinstated due to my ill health”. The Registrant has not provided the information (as set out in the letter of 13 May 2021) that is required to enable the HCPC to consider the option of a voluntary removal agreement.
14. The Registrant has not provided any details or evidence as to her health. The panel has no information on the nature of the health condition.
15. Ms Woolfson submitted that the Registrant is currently impaired on the basis of the personal and the public component. She submitted that there has been no relevant change in the circumstances. She referred to the decision in Clarke v Optical Council  EWCA Civ 1463 which confirms that fitness to practise involves considering whether an individual is fit to practise if they choose to do so, not whether they intend to practise. She submitted that, as a minimum, the Panel should extend the Suspension Order for a further period of twelve months. A further period of Suspension would give the Registrant a further opportunity to engage with the fitness to practise process.
16. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. She advised that the Panel should first consider whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired. The Panel should consider whether all the concerns in the decision of the Final Hearing Panel have been addressed and whether there is an ongoing risk to the public and ongoing need to protect the public interest. If the Panel decides that the Registrant’s fitness to practise remains impaired it should consider the appropriate order, beginning with the least restrictive option. It should apply the principle of proportionality, taking into account the Registrant’s interests and balancing those interests against the need to protect the public and the wider public interest.
17. The Panel considered whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired. The only information before the Panel is the Registrant’s statements that she no longer wishes to be registered as an ODP and references to her ill health. The Panel has no information about this ill-health and was unable to assess whether it might have had any impact on the Registrant’s ability to provide any evidence relating to insight or remediation to this reviewing panel.
18. The Panel concluded that there is no evidence of any relevant change in circumstances since the decision of the Final Hearing Panel. Although the Registrant has repeatedly stated that she does not intend to practise, this is not relevant to whether she is fit to practise. The position therefore remains that the Registrant has not demonstrated that she accepts full responsibility for her dishonest behaviour and has not shown sufficient insight and reflection into her conviction. Consequently, there remains a risk of repetition of dishonest behaviour. The Panel therefore decided that the Registrant’s fitness to practise remains impaired on the basis of the personal component.
19. In the absence of any evidence that the Registrant is acknowledging and addressing her past dishonest conduct, the Panel concluded that a finding of current impairment is also required to maintain public confidence in the profession and to uphold the required standards of conduct and behaviour.
20. The Panel next considered the appropriate sanction and had regard to the Sanctions Policy. The Panel decided that the option of taking no action or imposing a Caution Order would not be sufficient to protect the public because of the ongoing risk of repetition of dishonest conduct.
21. The behaviour in this case cannot be addressed by imposing conditions of practice because it involves dishonesty outside the workplace. Conditions would also be insufficient, inappropriate and unworkable in circumstances where the Registrant’s only engagement with the HCPC is to state that she does not wish her registration to be reinstated.
22. The Panel next considered the option of a Suspension Order. This option would be sufficient to protect the public and safeguard the public interest because the Registrant will be unable to practise as an ODP. The Panel also considered the more serious sanction of a Striking Off Order which is the sanction of last resort. The Panel decided that at this stage a Striking Off Order would be disproportionate. In reaching this decision the Panel took into account the Registrant’s references to her ill-health. The Panel has no information to assess the relevance of the Registrant’s ill-health, but was unable to exclude that it may be relevant. The Panel also considered the Registrant’s interests. It considered that if her health recovers she may wish to engage in the process and provide evidence for a review Panel. Alternatively, she may wish to review the information sent to her on 13 May 2021 on the option of voluntary removal.
23. The Panel therefore decided that the appropriate and proportionate order is a Suspension Order for the maximum period of twelve months. The maximum period is appropriate to allow time for the Registrant’s health to improve and for her to prepare evidence for a review Panel.
24. The Panel considered that a future reviewing Panel might be assisted by the Registrant providing a full, reflective written piece demonstrating well developed insight and remediation. Any relevant references or testimonials may also be helpful.
ORDER: The Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Dionne Champion for a period of twelve months from the date the current order expires.
This order will come into effect on 2 September 2021 and will be reviewed by the Committee no later than 2 September 2022 or earlier if new evidence which is relevant to the Order becomes available after it was made.