Deep M Patel

Profession: Hearing aid dispenser

Registration Number: HAD02544

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 04/04/2022 End: 17:00 07/04/2022

Location:

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Suspended

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Allegation

Allegation ( as amended) 

As a registered Hearing Aid Dispenser (HAD02544) your fitness to practise is impaired by reason of misconduct, in that:

1. On 17 August 2018, you:
a. submitted a duplicate expenses claim to Specsavers Stratford for your subscription renewal to British Society of Hearing Aid Audiologists;
b. In doing so, you obtained monies to the value of £220 to which you were not entitled.
2. On 13 November 2018, you;
a. submitted a duplicate expenses claim to Specsavers Wood Green for Amazon vouchers;
b. In doing so, you obtained monies to the value of £200 to which you were not entitled.
3. On the dates set out in schedule A, you obtained monies to which you were not entitled, by processing refunds to your personal bank accounts from Specsavers Stratford and/or Specsavers Wood Green, to the value of £16,465.
4. On or around 8 March 2019 and/or 3 June 2019, you falsified patient records by recording refunds issued to your personal bank accounts as patient refunds.
5. Your actions at paragraphs 1 – 4 were dishonest.
6. Your actions at paragraphs 1 – 5 constitute misconduct.
7. By reason of your misconduct, your fitness to practise is impaired.
Schedule A:
8 March 2019
24 April 2019
21 May 2019
28 May 2019
29 May 2019
3 June 2019.

Finding

Proceeding in Private
 
1. Having heard Mr Walker’s submission for part of the hearing to be held in private, which was not opposed by Mr Bridges, and having accepted the Legal Assessor’s advice, the Panel determined that, under Rule 10 (1) (a) of the HCPC’s Conduct, Competence Committee Rules 2003 (the Rules), the default position for all hearings is that they should be held in public. This was to reflect the spirit of openness and transparency on the grounds of the wider public interest, but hearings can be held partly or wholly in private where the private life of the Registrant requires protection or that it is in the interests of justice to hear the matter wholly or partly in private. 
 
2. In this case, the Panel noted that there are parts of the evidence that may refer to the Registrant’s private and family life and matters of medical confidentiality. Therefore, the Panel determined that it would be fair and proportionate to permit parts of the hearing to be in private, where they relate to the Registrant’s private and family life, including matters of medical confidentiality.
 
Amendment of the Allegation:
 
3. The original Allegation was as follows:
 
As a registered Hearing Aid Dispenser (HAD02544) your fitness to practise is impaired by reason of misconduct. In that:
1. On 17 August 2018, you:
a. submitted a duplicate expenses claim to Specsavers Stratford for your subscription renewal to British Society of Hearing Aid Audiologists; 
b. In doing so, you fraudulently obtained monies to the value of £220.
 
2. On 13 November 2018, you;
a. submitted a duplicate expenses claim to Specsavers Wood Green for Amazon vouchers;
b. In doing so, you fraudulently obtained monies to the value of £200.
 
3. On the dates set out in schedule A, you fraudulently obtained monies by processing refunds to your personal bank accounts from Specsavers Stratford and Specsavers Wood Green to the value of £16,465.
 
4. Between 8 March 2019 and 3 June 2019, you falsified patient records by recording refunds issued to your personal bank accounts as patient refunds. 
5. Your actions at paragraphs 1 – 4 were dishonest.
6. Your actions at paragraphs 1 – 5 constitute misconduct.
6 By reason of your misconduct, your fitness to practise is impaired. 
Schedule A: 
8 March 2019 
21 May 2019 
24 May 2019 
28 May 2019 
29 May 2019 
3 June 2019 
 
4. The HCPC applied to amend the allegation as follows (amendments marked in bold): 
 
As a registered Hearing Aid Dispenser (HAD02544) your fitness to practise is impaired by reason of misconduct, in that: 
1. On 17 August 2018, you: 
a. submitted a duplicate expenses claim to Specsavers Stratford for your subscription renewal to British Society of Hearing Aid Audiologists;
b. In doing so, you fraudulently obtained monies to the value of £220 to which you were not entitled. 
2. On 13 November 2018, you; 
a. submitted a duplicate expenses claim to Specsavers Wood Green for Amazon vouchers;
b. In doing so, you fraudulently obtained monies to the value of £200 to which you were not entitled. 
3. On the dates set out in schedule A, you fraudulently obtained monies to which you were not entitled, by processing refunds to your personal bank accounts from Specsavers Stratford and/or Specsavers Wood Green, to the value of £16,465. 
4. Between On or around 8 March 2019 and/or 3 June 2019, you falsified patient records by recording refunds issued to your personal bank accounts as patient refunds. 
5. Your actions at paragraphs 1 – 4 were dishonest.
6. Your actions at paragraphs 1 – 5 constitute misconduct.
6 7. By reason of your misconduct, your fitness to practise is impaired. 
 
Schedule A: 
8 March 2019 
24 April 2019 
21 May 2019 
24 May 2019 
28 May 2019 
29 May 2019 
3 June 2019. 
 
5. Mr Bridges applied to amend the Allegation which was not opposed by Mr Walker. The Panel accepted the Legal Assessor’s advice. The Panel concluded that the proposed amendments reflected the evidence more precisely. In addition, it was proper for any dishonesty allegation not to be complicated by the additional word “fraudulently”. Thus, the Panel determined that no prejudice or unfairness to the Registrant would result from the amendments. For these reasons, the Panel permitted the amendments.
 
Background 
 
6. The Registrant was employed by Specsavers Optical Group (Specsavers) as a Hearing Aid Dispenser from 17 July 2015. He was listed as a Director and Shareholder of Stratford Specsavers Hearcare Limited (SSHL) from 28 September 2015. He was listed as a Director and Shareholder of Wood Green Specsavers Hearcare (WGSHL) Limited from 11 September 2017. 
 
7. On 6 June 2019, during a routine monthly analysis of refund data, five suspicious refund transactions were identified at SSHL and WGSHL totaling £11,675. The refunds were all made to the same card number. 
 
8. During Specsavers investigation into this, they found another two suspicious refund transactions to another card number. It was established that both cards were linked to the Registrant. 
 
9. The investigation also identified two allegedly fraudulent expenses which the Registrant had submitted. On 16 August 2018 the Registrant submitted two expense claims for the renewal of his British Society of Hearing Aid Audiologists membership, each at £220. On 13 November 2019 the Registrant submitted expense claims for £200 of Amazon vouchers at both SSHL and WGSHL using the same Amazon receipt for both. 
 
The hearing:
 
10. Save for dishonesty alleged in Particular of Allegation 5) in relation to Particulars of Allegation 1) and 2), which the Registrant denied, the Registrant admitted to all the facts set out in Particulars of Allegation 1)a), 1)b), 2)a), 2)b), 3), 4) and 5) in relation to Particulars of Allegation 3) and 4) only. In respect of his admissions on the facts, the Registrant also admitted misconduct as set out in Particular of Allegation 6).
 
The HCPC case:
 
11. The Panel heard from one HCPC witness, as follows:
 
12. BW, Senior Financial Risk Support Consultant of the Financial Risk Support Team (FRS) at Specsavers. 
 
13. The HCPC provided BW’s written witness statement dated 7 May 2020  and accompanying exhibits. 
 
14. In light of the Registrant’s admissions, BW was tendered as a witness. 
 
15. In his written witness statement, BW described the method he had used to investigate the Allegation against the Registrant, and the use that had been made by the Registrant of the Specsavers Hearcare’s operating system called Sycle. This was customer-based software where any transactions were recorded, including those relating to hearing tests and products. 
 
16. FRS routinely ran reports for all Specsavers stores to look for unusual transactions. BW’s initial concerns about the Registrant arose when, in 2019, a colleague of BW identified that five refund transactions had been processed to the same card number (ending ‘1218’). They were identified on daily transaction reports from the Specsavers’ Stratford store and the Specsavers’ Wood Green store. Four of the refunds had been processed through SSHL, totaling £8,800, and one had been processed through WGSHL, totaling £2,795. In BW’s view at that time, five refunds all to the same card suggested that this had not been a genuine customer, as he considered that one would not expect a customer to purchase five products and have all of them refunded separately. 
 
17. Further investigations continued by way, initially, of a preliminary remote analysis, conducted by BW’s colleague LG (an FRS Consultant). BW, LG and the FRS team produced a report, which was an initial assessment undertaken after identifying a potential concern. It involved trying to establish if the concerning transactions were genuine customer related issues, and exploring any other possibilities, before putting the concern forward to the business itself. 
 
18. BW stated in his witness statement that refunds were should always be linked to the relevant customer record on Sycle. However, this link had to be made manually because when a refund was processed on a card machine it did not automatically link to the customer record. The person issuing the refund should enter the refund onto Sycle to update the customer record, detailing why the refund was required. It was found that two out of the five refunds were linked to a customer record on Sycle, a refund issued on 8 March 2019 and a refund issued on 3 June 2019.
 
19. There was no information on either of these records as to why a refund was required. This suggested that they were not legitimate refunds. 
 
20. The remaining three refunds were not linked to customer records. These were a refund on
 
21 May 2019 at Hackney SHL (a spoke store of SSHL), a refund on 28 May 2019 at SSHL, and a refund on 24 April 2019 at WGSHL. As there were no corresponding records of the refunds on Sycle, they were deemed by the FRS team likely not to be legitimate refunds. 
21. As part of the preliminary remote analysis, a conference telephone call was held between BW, LG, AP (Director, SSHL) and the Registrant on 14 June 2019. BW and LG asked if AP and the Registrant could think of any explanation for the refunds. During this conversation the Registrant admitted that the card number ending in ‘1218’ was his. He said that he had borrowed money from the business for a short term loan due to financial difficulties he was having. AP confirmed that he was not aware of either money being taken from the business or any financial difficulties the Registrant may have been experiencing. 
 
22. The Directors of SSHL and WGSHL commissioned FRS to conduct a full investigation into the concerns. An investigation report was produced by BW on behalf of the FRS team dated 26 June 2019. 
 
23. The losses had been identified as follows: 
 
Wood Green = £7,785.00 
Stratford = £9,100.00 
 
24. The total amount was £16,885.00, which the Registrant repaid on 21 June 2019, including a total of £420 for the cash expenses alleged in Particulars of Allegation 1) and 2). 
 
25. The FRS team interviewed the Registrant on 20 June 2019.  At interview, the Registrant accepted that he had falsified customer records. 
 
26. Having outlined the reason for the investigative interview, the discussion began with PB, Head of FRS, asking the Registrant to confirm that the card ending ‘1218’ was his own card and that he was the sole account holder. The Registrant confirmed this and further confirmed that he had processed £11,675.00 worth of refunds from the SSHL and WGSHL businesses that were credited back to his own personal bank account. 
 
27. PB asked the Registrant to explain why he had performed these refunds and credited his own personal bank account with money from the business. The Registrant stated, “I was quite short on money and I just had to, I needed to borrow some money, so I borrowed it through the business, which obviously, I now understand, is the wrong thing to do.”
 
28. PB then asked the Registrant to confirm the details regarding the additional card that DP had made the FRS team aware of. The Registrant confirmed that the card ending ‘7464’ had also been used on 2 occasions to refund £4,790.00 from WGSHL and that this money had again been credited to his own personal bank account. 
 
29. PB then asked that if it were a loan from the business as the Registrant was suggesting, when was he intending to pay this money back to the business? The Registrant stated, “Well I was going to borrow some money off my mum, to pay it back in due course. But, obviously I will need to sit down with my mum at some point”. PB asked the Registrant to clarify what he had meant by “due course” to which he replied, “Next couple of months”. 
 
30. A discussion around the legitimate ways in which money could be taken from the business then took place. The Registrant confirmed there were 3 ways, and all had to be approved by the business. These were via Payroll, Dividends and business-related expense claims. PB asked, “if someone was to take money from that business and not do it in the way we’ve just spoke about there, those 3 ways. Then how would you view that?” The Registrant replied that it would be “wrong”. 
 
31. PB then asked, “If an employee within your business, that works for you, refunded money on to their own card, how would you view that?’ to which the Registrant replied, “I’d dismiss them for fraud.” 
 
32. PB asked the Registrant to clarify how this example was any different to what the Registrant had done himself and how could he view it any differently. The Registrant stated, “It’s just my narrow mindedness at the time. You know, looking at it now retrospectively, it’s just a stupid, stupid thing to do.” 
 
33. Concerns were raised in the interview about the method in which the Registrant had removed the money from the business, specifically that he had not made anyone aware, that he had not documented the amounts taken anywhere in the business and that he had also associated two of the refunds against customer records. The FRS team concluded, and raised with the Registrant, that this appeared to counter the suggestion that he was going to pay this money back and that this was a “loan”. 
 
34. The Registrant seemed to understand these concerns and stated, “All I can say from my side is, look, it’s just stupid. I do apologise to you guys as SOG. I’ve let my partners down, let my staff down. I am not going to sit here and deny anything. I will be completely honest with you guys. I’ve let a lot of people down and I do apologise.” 
35. The full Report concluded as follows.
 
a)  The refunds started in March 2019 and were processed frequently and not as one big amount i.e. 1 refund of £17,000; 
 
b)  The amounts processed were similar amounts to that which one would expect to see for Hearing Aid purchases;
 
c)  Two of the refunds were associated to customer records;
 
d)  There were no records made by the Registrant on either banking paperwork or PDQ slips to indicate that he had 'borrowed' the money; 
 
e)  The Registrant had made no attempt (prior to the investigation) to repay the money;  
 
f)  The Registrant  did not make his fellow colleagues aware that he had either financial difficulties or that he had 'borrowed' money from the businesses neither did he make any support office staff  or anyone in Specsavers Group aware. 
 
36. On 18 July 2019, Specsavers held a Disciplinary hearing in relation to the issues arising from this case.
 
37. The Registrant has been employed at Audiological Science Ltd from September 2019 as a Hearing Aid Dispenser. 
38. In his evidence in chief, BW tried to clarify the dates of Particulars of Allegation 1) a) and 2) a). BW also orally clarified that the Registrant had been open in his admissions about his admitted dishonest acts in his 20 June 2019 interview.
 
39. As a result of BW’s evidence in chief, Mr Bridges sought to amend the Particulars of Allegation 1 and 2 to reflect BW’s oral evidence and to add the words “On or about….” to both dates of those Particulars of Allegation. This was not opposed by Mr Walker. The Legal Assessor’s advice was accepted by the Panel. The Panel determined that the amendments sought should be permitted as properly reflecting BW’s oral evidence that had been given in this hearing. The Panel also concluded that the proposed amendments were not unfair or prejudicial to the Registrant.
 
40. On cross examination by Mr Walker, BW stated that he agreed with his previous answers in an earlier hearing that he considered that the Registrant had made “genuine mistakes” and that he could have been “a little more diligent” in relation to Particulars of Allegation 1) and 2), rather than having committed fraud at those times. BW’s reasoning was that, if fraud had been involved, there would have been evidence of it by the Registrant on a larger scale. 
 
41. In answer to the Panel’s questions, BW stated that there might be some “slight distress” to any patients and confusion to the staff member on the patient returning to the store with a hearing aid, if there has been a refund and the record showed that, apparently, the patient no longer had a hearing aid. BW explained that any window of opportunity for further confusion to staff or distress to patients would have been “minimal” as the time differences between the apparent refund and the patient’s recall date were “small”. BW also stated that he was not aware of any business pressures on Directors and Co-Directors of Specsavers’ stores, especially where there had been debt held by a Specsavers store. BW stated that, although there had been a secondary layer for authorisation of expenses’ claims at Specsavers, if a Co-Director asked his fellow Co-Director to validate a travel expense, then "there might be no reason to doubt it”. BW also stated that he had no evidence to counter that the two events alleged in Particulars of Allegation 1) and 2) were anything other than errors, as stated by the Registrant. In addition, BW confirmed the overall time frame of all matters alleged was from March 2018 to June 2019.
 
The Registrant’s case:
 
42. The Registrant provided detailed written documentation (as set out below) and also gave oral evidence, which mirrored the documentary evidence he had provided.
 
43. In a detailed, undated document, prepared by the Registrant for this hearing, he set out the facts that led to his dishonest acts and sought to contextualise them.
 
44. By way of introduction, the Registrant included the following:
“Reflecting on my actions further, there is no doubt that I was wrong in the manner I chose to resolve my issues. I have spent a lot of time thinking about the different ways I could have resolved my matters but throughout that period of thinking it has always been clear to me that I must take full responsibility of my actions. Throughout the process I have let down many stakeholders, my family who have felt the repercussions of my actions, my team of hearing aid dispensers and admin team who have looked up to me for guidance and support, my business partners who have been through this journey with me, my patients who looked up to me as a professional and finally my profession to which I am ever so proud to be in…” 
 
45. In the part of the document entitled “Events The Investigating Committee Panel of the HCPC”, the Registrant set out the business structure of the Specsavers Audiology service and how he came to work in both the Stratford and Wood Green franchises, covering the period from May 2015 to mid 2019. He described in detail the background to his various business decisions and how he had felt “pressured” into accepting the Wood Green proposition, put to him by others within the organisation. 
 
46. He included detail of the method he had used to commit the acts of dishonesty alleged:
“…I had taken money without permission from my partners from the businesses to which I was a director of over a period of six months from December 2018 in order to pay personal debts. At the time of the start of the incidents I had been the Hearcare Director at Stratford Specsavers Hearcare Ltd. for three years and Hearcare Director for Specsavers Wood Green Hearcare Ltd. for almost 15 months. 
 
47. As part of the business set up, Hearcare Directors at Specsavers do not have access to a business bank account but instead the cash in the business sits with Specsavers Operating Group’s bank and we are provided a virtual account of bank balances for each of the business that I was a part of….
 
48. I used my own personal bank cards to refund money from the business bank account to my personal bank account over a period of four months in transaction amounts that replicated hearing aid sales. I used to receive monthly reports on all card and cash transactions for both business which I would reconcile to ensure they balanced with the bank account every month. All of the transactions were completed during business hours whilst I was on premises. 
 
49. I must mention that no other parties were involved in my actions inside or outside of the organisation…” 
 
50. The Registrant expressed, amongst other things, the following, in relation to his “Feelings” about what had taken place:
 
I was under a huge amount of pressure trying to manage both businesses that were in poor financial health and also my personal finances subsequently were also in a poor state. I had been feeling alone as my business partners were busy managing their optical businesses and Specsavers Group had provided me with very little support at the time I needed it most. I had been in discussion with Specsavers about supporting the businesses and I was promised support, however, the support promised was not offered and I felt extremely let down and betrayed, especially in the manner they chose to decline the support. I had been working long hours in trying to move the businesses in the correct direction and this was also affecting my personal life…” 
 
51. The Registrant also provided more detail of the personal issues that he stated he had faced at the time.
 
52. On his “Evaluation and Analysis", he included the following:
“Overall, I knew I was in the wrong for withdrawing the money from the business in the manner I had chosen. The moment I received a phone call from the FRS team in regard to the transactions I was extremely honest in what I had done and throughout the investigation period I remained honest in my answers and all I wanted to do is to repay the money back to the businesses immediately. I organised the funds and had them transferred within 2 working days following from our investigation meeting….
I have had the opportunity to reflect on my conduct and how this may have affected the people around me. Although my actions did not affect any of my patients directly, I have had time to understand how this has affected them indirectly…. 
 I failed to understand the importance of my professional conduct on this occasion and the importance of this to ensure my patients have the trust in me to provide them with best possible care…..
I am deeply upset about what how my actions have affected my employees and colleagues. My actions had left many of my employees very upset and fearful without my guidance. Many of my employees and students looked up to me for support both professionally and personally and on reflection I truly understand how my actions have directly impacted them…. 
On this occasion the failure of my professional standards has caused a lot of upset and confusion among my team for which I am deeply sorry for…..
The manner in which I chose to rectify my problems was completely reckless and I failed in my professional duty….
The build of events that led to my actions are not an excuse for my behaviour and lack of judgement. On reflection, I should have been more open and stronger about how things were progressing within the business and should have sought independent legal and financial advice about what was involved in running a business such as this, given my inexperience…..
I have taken learnings from my mistakes to help me tackle similar issues if they were to arise in the future.” 
 
On “Remediation and Conclusion”, the Registrant included the following:
 
“I have decided to spend some time revisiting the HCPC standards of conduct, performance and ethics… 
I have learnt how my actions and am very clear about how my actions have breached the Standard 9 ‘To be honest and trustworthy’ and furthermore 9.1 You must make sure that your conduct justifies the public’s trust and confidence in you and your profession. I now have a stronger understanding of my responsibilities as a professional and understand how my actions, whether clinical or other, can affect the reputation and confidence of my profession. I feel in the past I have concentrated more on the clinical responsibilities of my profession and now feel I must give equal weight to character and ethics in my CPD and reflective practice moving forward. On reflection of my professional duties, I have also felt I should have supported my staff better through the discrimination they suffered in line with the standard 1.6 You must challenge colleagues if you think that they have discriminated against, or are discriminating against, service users, carers and colleagues. I intervened and raised my concerns but feel this was not enough. As a leader I should have protected my staff better….
I would like to provide assurance to the HCPC that I have truly worked on my character and learnt a lot from my recent experience. I have spent time reflecting on my professionalism and character and feel I am in a stronger position than I have ever been in managing my responsibilities. I have reflected on the events that have led to my dishonesty and feel I would never make these poor errors in judgement again. I truly feel this was an isolated occurrence in the lapse of my behaviour and am truly committed and understand to my obligations as a hearing aid dispenser….
I would like to end by taking full accountability and responsibility of my actions. I had spent a lot of time blaming Specsavers for my actions at the initial stage of my investigation and through clearing my mental health and reflecting on my actions, there is no doubt that I should have approached my issues and concerns in a much more professional manner, recognising that I alone am accountable for my professional conduct…. 
I would like to make a formal apology to the HCPC who protect and represent my fellow professionals, my profession as a hearing aid dispenser and the interests of our patients. I deeply regretful of my actions and how this has affected my profession…” 
 
53. The Registrant also provided the Panel with an undated document, entitled “My Framework”, which he stated he had composed after reflecting on his acts and omissions arising in this case. He introduced it as follows:
The last 12 months I have had many opportunities to further reflect in my professional and personal capacity. I have found revisiting my professional standards, performance and ethics extremely valuable and the courses I attended have provided me an excellent foundation to reflect on how poor my actions had been. I have found this incredibly valuable for me to grow and provided me the foundation to what I refer to as ‘My Framework’. 
In my case, I have realised there is no framework for me to take learning from, instead I must create my own framework to ensure I can gain insight and learn from my mistakes and build on myself to become a professional that has the character and fitness to represent my profession. 
I have learnt that I will carry my failing in character and fitness with me for the rest of my life and I am constantly reminded of this during everyday activities in my professional and personal life. The feeling of regret is what normally comes to mind during these moments but I now also see these moments as opportunities to take away learning, build insight on my professional standards and growing in my professional/personal life…”
 
54. The Registrant then set out his “My Framework”, which he divided into the following sections:
• “Safeguarding”;
• “Identity";
• "Duty of Candour”;
• Two examples relating to confidential service user events, that the Registrant stated demonstrated that he had reflected on the impact of these matters on his own approach during the time period of the Allegation.
 
55. On 12 March 2020, the Registrant responded to an HCPC invitation to attend its “My Standards” workshop at the HCPC headquarters.
 
56. On 6 May 2021, the Registrant undertook an HCPC course on “Probity and Ethics” as part of his Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and he produced the Certificate for this to the Panel. The Registrant’s “Reflection” document described how he felt that he had benefited from this course, as it provided him with deeper insight into his alleged dishonesty and in relation to all his acts and omissions arising from this case. This included his stated learning about his remediation on his acts of dishonesty, as follows:
“The honesty, integrity, openness and truthfulness section allowed me to reflect my shortcomings further and allowed to truly understand how I did not meet my professional standards. Remediation of my dishonesty has taken me some time…..The time I spent focusing on the HCPC standards, workshops and working with my new employer has provided me an excellent insight on how my behaviour fell far below the expectations of me as a professional. I now confidently and honestly feel that a similar compromise in my standards would not occur again. I feel empowered to continually reflect on stressful situations that I find myself in my professional and personal life. This has been a significant improvement to personal development.” 
 
57. The Registrant also provided four references/testimonials. All four stated that they knew of the Allegation, including the dishonesty and all stated that the dishonesty was uncharacteristic of the Registrant. RP, a registered Hearing Aid Dispenser, worked with the Registrant at the Wood Green branch and GP, another Hearing Aid Dispenser, worked with him at the Stratford branch. Both RP (this reference was dated 1 January 2020) and GP (this reference was undated) expressed positive comments about the Registrant. 
 
58. Another referee, AP, an Optometrist, in his undated reference, gave supporting comments about the Registrant and stated that he, AP, had worked with the Registrant as a co-Director in the Stratford branch from around late 2015 up until August 2017. He corroborated that the Registrant had not been comfortable on being asked by higher management at Specsavers to take over the Wood Green branch in addition to the Stratford branch. AP stated:
“However whilst he was not personally comfortable to embark on this venture he felt that he would be looked down upon by the regional manager at the time on the one hand, and on the other was advised that this new venture would allow him to further his career within the group. At the time the Wood Green store had been without a hearing director for a number of years and was in substantial debt. AP also corroborated the Registrant in relation to the fact that he understood that the Registrant had been told that if he did not take on the Wood Green branch, he would face a Business Review Meeting (BRM) for the Stratford store.
 
59. The Registrant’s fourth reference, dated 1 March 2020, was from AA, Managing Director of Audiological Science Ltd, where the Registrant has worked from September 2019 to present day as a Hearing Aid Dispenser. AA’s reference was highly supportive of the Registrant, stating, amongst other things, that he was extremely dedicated professional and “model” Audiologist. He stated of the Registrant the following:
“Deep’s clinical abilities are to a very high standard and he has shown great integrity in how he manages the patients that access our services. Deep is very well liked and relied upon by many of our NHS and private patients. Since Deep has joined the company, he has raised the quality and clinical standards to a higher level throughout the whole organisation. He has progressed to be seen as a senior staff member that many new and experienced Audiologists turn to when they need help managing patients or need personal development……The organisation has found Deep to be an honest, hardworking and a passionate employee. The company believes Deep’s character or trustworthiness is not currently impaired and we are willing to support and develop Deep to ensure this continues. I strongly believe Deep has chosen this profession because shares my passion to help patients hear better and provide life changing care.” 
 
60. AA also stated that the Registrant had performed his role extremely well during the Covid pandemic and had been very supportive of patients’ mental health. AA also stated that he had held monthly meetings with the Registrant to discuss his progress, character and professional conduct, of which AA had “found no concerns during his time with the company”. 
 
61. In his oral evidence, the Registrant repeated the contents of much of the documentation that he had provided, but he updated the Panel on his situation in the last two to three years, since the dates of his earlier written reflections. 
 
62. In evidence in chief, he stated that, on re-reading his earlier initial comments to the HCPC Investigating Committee panel, he felt “horror” at the tone of it, and that it had failed to reflect relevant insight into the consequences of his actions. It reflected where he had been at that time on his insight and remediation journey and contrasted to where he felt he was today. He stated that he was still learning a great deal from day to day and that he had “moved mountains” since his original statement. 
 
63. The Registrant repeated that his actions in relation to Particulars of Allegation 1) and 2) were “genuine mistakes”, where he had “piles of receipts” and where the company system at the time did not easily allow for one to check previous claims. He stated that he was “incredibly sorry” for his actions.
 
64. The Registrant acknowledged his dishonesty in relation to the remaining Particulars of Allegation, stating that he had lacked judgement at that time, that it had been due to his own failings of character and poor fitness, and that he did not to seek to blame others. He acknowledged that the effect of his actions had been widespread, affecting his own professional ethics, his professional relationships, his patients, his family and his profession. 
 
65. He described that, since his initial comments for the HCPC Investigating Committee panel, he had been “on a good journey”, but “a strange and complex one”, with controls in place for his health and ethical boundaries. It was a continuing journey, where he was constantly reflecting on his actions leading to the Allegation, why they took place and how they could be avoided in the future. He stated that he was continuing to learn as he went along. He understood that the issues were about his fitness to practise and his own standards; hence his authorship of his own “My Standards” document that he continued using, not allowing his “guard” to drop and taking a cautious approach to his practice and in his life in general. He stated that he took full responsibility for all his actions. 
 
66. The Registrant formally apologised to all the patients and service users affected by his actions and to those that he had ever treated, as well as to his teams at work, his profession, fellow Audiologists and to the HCPC, recognising that his actions had damaged his profession in the eyes of his peers and of the public.  
 
67. In cross examination, the Registrant repeated that his actions in relation to Particulars of Allegation 1) and 2) were not intentional, were a genuine mistake and he had paid back the monies involved. The Registrant also acknowledged his dishonesty in the remaining Particulars of Allegation and stated that he had completely lacked any insight at the time.
 
68. In relation to Particular of Allegation 3, the Registrant conceded that he had acted secretly when he issued refunds to his personal bank accounts, not revealing his actions to anybody.  He also conceded that he had attempted to describe these as a “loan” to BW in his 19 June 2019 interview. The Registrant further conceded that the monies involved could not have been a “loan”, as the “borrowed” monies had not been paid back at the time and he could not tell the Panel if he knew that the monies would have been returned at the time. 
 
69. In relation to Particular of Allegation 4), the Registrant stated that the effect of the taking of the monies from the business and then falsifying the records to accord with his dishonest acts were both equally serious matters with wider consequences for the public. The patients concerned had not been directly affected, but he recognised the risk that they could have been.
 
70. The Registrant stated that he understood the HCPC Standards Paragraph 9 and 9.1 with respect to having honesty and integrity and how the public would be shocked and surprised if the Regulator did not intervene and declare that the Registrant’s conduct needed to be marked. He agreed that his conduct had fallen “far far below” the standards expected of him by the public and service users. 
 
71. The Registrant agreed that Particulars of Allegation 3) represented dishonesty over a three month period. He described the remediation  process as answering his own challenging questions as to why he took the dishonest actions that he did, reflecting what he described as his “character failure” and health issues. He said that his learning and reflection was “the only constant”. He also stated that his remediation was ‘“very very complex” and he was grateful for his current supportive employment to enable this. 
 
72. In answer to the Panel’s questions, the Registrant stated that he realised that he should have had the character and fitness to know that he should not have taken on a debt-ridden business. He also stated that he had “moved on” and accepted that his actions were “down to me”. He said that he needed to make sure that these events never happened again, and to take correct steps if they were likely to. He agreed that he was “on a journey” and had taken personal responsibility and was not seeking to deflect blame and responsibility for his past actions.
 
73. When answering questions about what he would do differently today, the Registrant stated that learning more about his motivation for his actions has led him to have sufficient confidence and openness to recognise any short falls and to ask for help from relevant colleagues and professionals, such as accountants, and also to seek help from his family.  He also stated that his insight was continually growing, not yet fully formed, but had become sufficiently developed for him to know what to do in the future to avoid repetition of the matters comprising of this Allegation, also acknowledging that one could not always predict what might arise in the future. 
 
74. The Registrant stated that the main lesson he had taken from this case was that he has recognised that he is primarily a clinician, with commended clinical skills. He had been a clinician thrown into a business environment and he had “sunk”. He told the Panel that he now wished to focus entirely on Audiology and that he had no plans to engage in any business proposition again; if he should do so, he would take specialist advice, such as seeking financial accountancy advice and taking courses in business matters, which he had failed to do in 2017. 
 
75. The Panel also heard from AP and AA, who both gave evidence in accordance with their written references/testimonials. 
 
76. AA described the Registrant in his evidence in chief and in answer to Panel questions as an “excellent” and a “model” Audiologist and Hearing Aid Dispenser, and had been so “from day one”. He stated that his view now was “one hundred per cent” as it had been expressed by him in his 1 March 2020 email letter. 
 
77. AA stated about the Registrant: “I trust him completely”. AA stated that he had “huge trust” in the Registrant, to the extent that AA, gradually over the last two years, has included the Registrant in helping him plan company strategy, including sharing with the Registrant financial information, which AA did with only one other employee, who also held a company credit card. AA also stated that he was considering the Registrant, above all the other 14 employees, to be the person he would choose to help him in his role as the Financial Controller of the company. AA stated that he was the company’s Managing Director and a fifty per cent shareholder, but, as the company was expanding quickly, he was now requiring help in relation to the fundamental financial structure of the company. He described that this would require the Registrant to have unsupervised access to the company’s bank account and he said that he would have no hesitation in arranging this in the near future, such was the trust he had in the Registrant. AA stated that there had been no issues at all with the Registrant’s approach to his expenses and that the Registrant would always try to identify ways to save money for the company in that respect.
 
78. AA’s oral testimony of the Registrant included that the Registrant was “excellent with patients” and popular with them; they regularly asked for him to treat them over and above the other employees; that he cared for his patients and their ability to hear, taking on the more complex cases as time had progressed since he commenced employment with the company; that he was “very conscientious” with staff, many of whom, at a more junior level, would gravitate to the Registrant rather than anybody else for help and advice. His clinical skills and knowledge were excellent and as good as he, AA, had even seen in over 20 years’ of practice as an Audiologist. 
 
79. AA also described that the Registrant had demonstrated considerable enthusiasm for self-improvement, asking at their monthly meetings for ways that he, the Registrant, could improve in relation to the matters within the Allegation. AA stated that the Registrant was a “conscientious and hard working employee” and “no one had a bad word to say about him”. AA stated that the Registrant was “fantastic” and that he, AA, hoped that the Registrant “stays with us forever”. 
 
80. On clarifying what the Registrant’s position might be in the company should the case reach sanction stage (if it did) and the upper end of sanctions being considered in light of the nature of the Allegation, AA assured the Panel that it would not affect the Registrant’s work at the company. The Registrant currently fits hearing aids in mostly NHS cases, performs some wax removals and does only limited private hearing aid dispensing. AA stated that the Registrant also helps with strategic company and financial planning, governance, safeguarding, formulating company policies and generally helping to run the business. Any restrictive sanction imposed would not affect the Registrant’s position with the company, as, although he could not perform hearing aid work covered by the HCPC regulation, the Registrant would still have “a wealth of work in developing our services and treating patients where he would be permitted to do so”. 
 
81. AA also stated that he would respect any decision of the Panel, but stated the following about the Registrant: “I see no reason at all for the Panel to be concerned about his trustworthiness, honesty and dedication as an Audiologist.”
 
82. AP’s oral testimony also reflected the contents of his undated reference letter. He enlarged on it by stating that he had appreciated that the Registrant had been honest and open with his early admissions to the matters under scrutiny and that he had learned from his failure to seek help from AP, and others. AP also stated that he, himself, had asked his more junior colleagues to contact the Registrant for any help they required, and he continues to do so, such was his trust in the Registrant’s clinical abilities as an Audiologist.
 
83. AP also added that the Registrant had set up one of the first Improving Quality in Physiological Services (IQIPS) in London. The Panel learnt that this is a system of high level of Audiology accreditation that is required in order for audiology companies to continue to run NHS contracts. 
 
84. AP described the differentiation between the business structures within Audiology as against that within Optics, the former being a new business model within the profession, whereas the latter was already an established business model. This made it easier for practitioners to perform within the Optics business models than within new, untested Audiology ones. He explained that there had been no programme for training, study or mentorship provided to the Registrant when he entered the Audiology business structures at the Stratford or at the Wood Green stores. AP also stated that the reliance on appointing a practitioner to Director/Co-Director status was to defer to the incoming practitioner to “know their stuff”. AP stated that the philosophy was that the practitioner would “pick it up as you go along”, although if one had questions, there would be a support team there to help. He described a company loan system available, paid back by deductions from future dividends earned by the practitioner, but AP was unsure if the Registrant had been informed about this on being recruited into the Co-Director roles.
 
85. AP expressed that he had been disappointed at the failure of the Registrant to ask him, AP, for help when the Registrant was experiencing problems that had led to the acts of dishonesty. AP stated that had been “surprised and shocked” to learn of those matters.
 
86. When asked by the Panel if he would go into business with the Registrant again in the future, in light of the Registrant’s previous dishonesty, AP stated that he might do so, as he considered that the Registrant had learnt from what he had done wrong. AP stated that the Registrant has changed “dramatically”. He added that the Registrant had admitted on numerous occasions in meetings with him that he, the Registrant, had had done wrong, that he was much more diligent now, would not be repeating his errors in business and that he was going to ensure that he would do things properly, professionally.
 
87. AP also clarified that, although he had given written character evidence, his oral evidence also encompassed information about the background to the business side of the case, and he did so with “no interest in defending him”, namely, the Registrant. 
 
The Panel’s decisions
 
88. In reaching its decisions, the Panel took into account the HCPC’s oral and written evidence of BW with exhibits, within the hearing bundle, the documents provided by the Registrant and his oral evidence, the written and oral evidence of AA and AP, as well as the oral submissions by both parties. The Panel accepted the Legal Assessor’s advice at all times. The Panel understood that it is for the HCPC to bring and prove the facts of the Particulars of Allegation on the balance of probabilities and that the Grounds and the Impairment stages require no standard of proof and are decisions based on the Panel’s own judgement. The Panel also took into consideration the relevant HCPTS’ Practice Notes on Grounds and Impairment, and the HCPC’s Standards for Conduct, Performance and Ethics (the Standards).
 
Decision on Facts
 
1a: Proved.
 
89. The Panel accepted that the evidence demonstrated that the Registrant had submitted a cash expense claim for £220 for his annual fee to the British Society of Hearing Aid Audiologists (BSHAA) on two occasions on 16 August 2018 through the Wood Green and the Stratford stores, and that the second one was a duplicate expenses claim. The Panel noted that he had admitted to the facts of this Particular of Allegation during his 20 June 2019 interview and in this hearing.
 
1b: Proved.
 
90. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant was only required to take one subscription a year to the BHSAA and, in submitting two identical claims on his cash expenses on the same day, he had not been entitled to the extra £220. In addition, the Panel noted that the Registrant in this hearing has admitted the facts of this Particular of Allegation.
 
2a: Proved.
 
91. The Panel accepted that the evidence demonstrated that the Registrant had submitted a duplicate cash expense claim for £200 in Amazon gift cards on 13 November 2018 through the Wood Green Specsavers store, having already claimed it through the Stratford store on the same day. The Panel noted that he had admitted to the facts of this Particular of Allegation during his 20 June 2019 interview and in this hearing.
 
2b: Proved.
 
92. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant, in submitting two identical claims on his cash expenses on the same day for the Amazon vouchers, was not entitled to the said extra £200. It was noted that the Registrant in this hearing has admitted to the facts of this Particular of Allegation. 
 
 
3 and Schedule A:
8 March 2019: Proved. 
 
93. The Panel was satisfied that the evidence demonstrated that on 8 March 2019 a refund was entered onto the SSHL Sycle system on the record for customer ID 1465575. There were no other refunds entered through the SSHL Sycle system or the card machine for this date. Furthermore, the Panel noted that the refund had been recorded under ‘other equipment’, where it stated ‘RETURNED 08-03-2019’. The card refund had been processed on 8 March 2019. The Panel noted that there was no information explaining why the return was necessary under ‘appointments > outcome notes’. 
 
94. The Panel further noted that there was no outcome indicating that a refund had been made, or that an appointment had been listed for the date of the return. Therefore, for these reasons, the Panel concluded that the refund had not been legitimate. 
 
95. The Panel also noted that it was company policy to refund money to the same card used for the original transaction. On 8 March 2019 there were no transactions processed on the card that made the original purchase. The Panel noted that, instead, the WorldPay card refund listing demonstrated that the refund had been processed to the card number ending in ‘1218’, the Registrant’s card. In addition, the Panel noted that the summary of the refund invoice on Sycle showed that the refund had been issued by the Registrant. 
 
96. Furthermore, the Panel noted that in his 20 June 2019 interview, the Registrant had accepted that he had falsified customer records by associating the refund with a customer’s record on Sycle. In addition, the Panel noted that the Registrant has admitted this Particular of Allegation in this hearing. 
 
24 April 2019: Proved
 
97. The Panel noted that the evidence demonstrated that on 24 April 2019 a refund had been issued to the card number ending in ‘1218’, the Registrant’s card. The Panel further noted that the sales summary report relating to that refund showed no record of it on any customer record on the Sycle system. For these reasons, the Panel concluded that this had not been a legitimate customer refund. Furthermore, the Panel noted that the Registrant has admitted this Particular of Allegation in this hearing. 
 
21 May 2019: Proved.
 
98. The Panel noted from the evidence that, on 21 May 2019, two refunds had been processed at the Hackney store (a spoke store of the SSHL business). One of the refunds had been entered onto the record for customer ID 1958410. Information relating to that refund had been recorded in the ‘outcome notes’ for the appointment dated 21 May 2019 and appeared to have been a legitimate refund. The invoice for the original purchase showed that a card refund had been processed on 21 May 2019. The summary of the refund invoice on Sycle demonstrated that the refund had been issued by RU. 
 
99. However, the Panel further noted that the evidence also demonstrated that the WorldPay refund report showed that the other refund had been associated with the card number ‘1218’, one of the Registrant’s cards.
100. In addition, the Panel noted that a refund report from WorldPay showed that, on 21 May 2019, a refund had been issued to the card number ending in ‘7464’, the Registrant’s other card by his own admission to the FRS team in his 20 June 2019 interview. The Panel further noted that there had been no record of the latter refund on any customer record on the Sycle system. For these reasons, the Panel concluded that the latter refund had not been a legitimate customer refund. Furthermore, the Panel noted that the Registrant has admitted this Particular of Allegation in this hearing
 
28 May 2019: Proved.
 
101. The Panel noted from the evidence that a refund report from WorldPay demonstrated that, on 28 May 2019, a refund had been issued to the card number ending in ‘1218’, one of the Registrant’s cards. The Panel further noted that there had been no record of this refund on any customer record on the Sycle system. For these reasons, the Panel concluded that this had not been a legitimate customer refund. 
29 May 2019: Proved.
 
102. The Panel noted from the evidence that a refund report from WorldPay demonstrated that, on 29 May 2019, a refund had been issued to the card number ending in ‘7464’, one of the Registrant’s cards, as admitted by him in his 20 June 2019 FRS interview. There had been no record of this refund on any customer record on the Sycle system. Therefore, for these reasons, the panel concluded that this was not a legitimate customer refund. Furthermore, the Panel noted that the Registrant has admitted this Particular of Allegation in this meeting. 
3 June 2019: Proved
 
103. The Panel noted from the evidence that on 3 June 2019, a refund had been entered onto the SSHL Sycle system on the record for customer ID 1006366. The Panel also noted that there had been no other refunds entered through the SSHL Sycle system or the card machine for this date. It noted that the refund had been recorded under ‘other equipment’ where it had stated: ‘RETURNED 03-06-2019’. The Panel also found no information explaining why the return had been necessary under ‘appointments > outcome notes’. 
 
104. In addition, the Panel took into consideration that the evidence did not provide an outcome indicating that a refund had been made, or that it showed that an appointment had been listed for the date of the return. For these reasons, the Panel concluded that the refund had not been legitimate. 
 
105. The invoice for the original purchase showed that a card refund had been processed on 3 June 2019. The Panel accepted BW’s evidence that he had found that, on 3 June 2019, there had been no transactions processed on the card that made the original purchase. The Panel noted that the WorldPay card refund listing showed that the refund had been processed to the card number ending in ‘1218’, one of the Registrant’s cards. The Panel further noted that the summary of the refund invoice on Sycle showed that the refund had been issued by the Registrant. 
 
106. In addition, the Panel took into consideration that the Registrant, in his FRS interview on 20 June 2019 accepted that he had “falsified’ customer records by associating the refund with a customer’s record on Sycle. Furthermore, the Panel noted that the Registrant has admitted this Particular of Allegation in the hearing.
 
4: Proved.
 
107. The Panel noted the evidence in relation to 8 March 2019 and 3 June 2019 demonstrated that the Registrant had falsified patient records by recording refunds issued to his personal bank accounts as patient refunds and that he had admitted these actions in his 20 June 2019 FRS interview. The evidence was accepted by the Panel as follows:
8 March 2019:
 
108. The Panel was satisfied that the evidence demonstrated that on 8 March 2019 a refund was entered onto the SSHL Sycle system on the record for customer ID 1465575. There were no other refunds entered through the SSHL Sycle system or the card machine for this date. Furthermore, the Panel noted that the refund had been recorded under ‘other equipment’, where it stated ‘RETURNED 08-03-2019’. The card refund had been processed on 8 March 2019. The Panel noted that there was no information explaining why the return was necessary under ‘appointments > outcome notes’. 
 
109. The Panel further noted that there was no outcome indicating that a refund had been made, or that an appointment had been listed for the date of the return. Therefore, for these reasons, the Panel concluded that the refund had not been legitimate. 
 
110. The Panel also noted that it was company policy to refund money to the same card used for the original transaction. On 8 March 2019 there were no transactions processed on the card that made the original purchase. The Panel noted that, instead, the WorldPay card refund listing demonstrated that the refund had been processed to the card number ending in ‘1218’, the Registrant’s card. In addition, the Panel noted that the summary of the refund invoice on Sycle showed that the refund had been issued by the Registrant. 
 
111. Furthermore, the Panel noted that in his 20 June 2019 interview, the Registrant had accepted that he had falsified customer records by associating the refund with a customer’s record on Sycle. In addition, the Panel noted that the Registrant has admitted this Particular of Allegation in this hearing. 
 
 
3 June 2019: 
 
112. The Panel noted from the evidence that on 3 June 2019, a refund had been entered onto the SSHL Sycle system on the record for customer ID 1006366. The Panel also noted that there had been no other refunds entered through the SSHL Sycle system or the card machine for this date. It noted that the refund had been recorded under ‘other equipment’ where it had stated: ‘RETURNED 03-06-2019’. The Panel also found no information explaining why the return had been necessary under ‘appointments > outcome notes’. 
 
113. In addition, the Panel took into consideration that the evidence did not provide an outcome indicating that a refund had been made, or that it showed that an appointment had been listed for the date of the return. For these reasons, the Panel concluded that the refund had not been legitimate. 
 
114. The invoice for the original purchase showed that a card refund had been processed on 3 June 2019. The Panel accepted BW’s evidence that he had found that, on 3 June 2019, there had been no transactions processed on the card that made the original purchase. The Panel noted that the WorldPay card refund listing showed that the refund had been processed to the card number ending in ‘1218’, one of the Registrant’s cards. The Panel further noted that the summary of the refund invoice on Sycle showed that the refund had been issued by the Registrant. 
 
115. In addition, the Panel took into consideration that the Registrant, in his FRS interview on 20 June 2019 accepted that he had “falsified’ customer records by associating the refund with a customer’s record on Sycle. Furthermore, the Panel noted that the Registrant has admitted this Particular of Allegation in this hearing. 
 
5 as to 1a and 1b: Not proved.
 
116. The Panel noted that the events comprising of these Particulars of Allegation had occurred in August 2018, some seven months before the more substantial, and admitted, dishonest acts. The Panel also took into consideration that the amounts concerned were considerably less in value and had a different background to them than those within the admitted dishonesty Particulars of Allegation. In the Panel’s judgement, there would be little, or no, gain to the Registrant to deny these matters needlessly, without a reason. The Registrant’s reasoning was that he had wanted to divide the sums into two equal parts, but failed to do so and the EBIS system had been cumbersome, making it very difficult to go back on actions already undertaken. The Panel accepted the Registrant’s explanation that he had made an “error” and “a genuine mistake” as credible and realistic. 
 
117. The Panel also accepted the oral and written consistent evidence of BW, an experienced fraud investigator, that he considered that the Registrant had made “genuine mistakes” as to the BHSAA subscription duplicated cash expenses claims. BW also stated that he had no evidence to counter that the events alleged in Particulars of Allegation 1a and 1b were anything other than “errors”, as the Registrant had described them. The Panel was satisfied that the independent evidence of BW in relation to these Particulars of Allegation accorded with the Registrant’s explanation for his actions of them being “errors” and “genuine mistakes”, which had been consistent from when he had first been questioned about them. 
 
118. Furthermore, the Panel noted the Registrant’s frank admissions to the remaining Particulars of Allegation, which, in the Panel’s judgement, gave weight to the likelihood that his explanation for his actions in these Particulars of Allegation amounted to those actions having been careless or negligent conduct and not deliberately dishonest conduct.
 
119. The Panel concluded that the conduct by the Registrant in relation to Particulars of Allegation 1a and 1b would not be viewed as dishonest by the objective standards of ordinary decent people.
 
120. Therefore, for these reasons, the Panel concluded that the Registrant’s conduct in relation to Particulars of Allegation 1a and 1b was not dishonest.
 
5 as to 2a and 2b: Not proved.
 
121. The Panel noted that the events comprising of these Particulars of Allegation had occurred in November 2018, some four months before the more substantial, and admitted, dishonest acts. The Panel also took into consideration that the amounts concerned were considerably less in value and had a different background to them than those within the admitted dishonesty Particulars of Allegation. In the Panel’s judgement, there would be little, or no, gain to the Registrant to deny these matters needlessly, without a reason. The Registrant’s reasoning was that he had wanted to divide the sums into two equal parts, but failed to do so. The Panel accepted the Registrant’s explanation that he had made an “error” and “a genuine mistake” as credible and realistic. 
 
122. The Panel also accepted the oral and written consistent evidence of BW, an experienced fraud investigator, that he considered that the Registrant had made “genuine mistakes” as to the Amazon duplicated cash expenses claims. BW also stated that he had no evidence to counter that the events alleged in Particulars of Allegation 2a and 2b were anything other than “errors”, as the Registrant had described them. The Panel was satisfied that the independent evidence of BW in relation to these Particulars of Allegation accorded with the Registrant’s explanation for his actions of them being “errors” and “genuine mistakes”, which had been consistent from when he had first been questioned about them. 
 
123. Furthermore, the Panel noted the Registrant’s frank admissions to the remaining Particulars of Allegation, which, in the Panel’s judgement, gave weight to the likelihood that his explanation for his actions in these Particulars of Allegation amounted to those actions having been careless or negligent conduct and not deliberately dishonest conduct.
 
124. The Panel concluded that the conduct by the Registrant in relation to Particulars of Allegation 2a and 2b would not be viewed as dishonest by the objective standards of ordinary decent people.
 
125. Therefore, for these reasons, the Panel concluded that the Registrant’s conduct in relation to Particulars of Allegation 2a and 2b was not dishonest.
 
5 as to 3: Proved.
8 March 2019: Proved.
 
126. The Panel could not find any other alternative innocent, careless/accidental or negligent explanation for the Registrant’s actions other than a dishonest motive to provide financial advantage to himself. In addition, the Panel noted his admission in his 20 June 2019 interview that he had “falsified” customer records, utilising the Sycle system,  to facilitate this dishonest act. Furthermore, the Panel noted that the Registrant has admitted this Particular of Allegation in this hearing.
 
24 April 2019: Proved.
 
127. The Panel could not find any other alternative innocent, careless/accidental or negligent explanation for the Registrant’s actions other than a dishonest motive to provide financial advantage to himself. Furthermore, the Panel noted that the Registrant has admitted this Particular of Allegation in this hearing. 
 
21 May 2019: Proved.
 
128. The Panel could not find any other alternative innocent, careless/accidental or negligent explanation for the Registrant’s actions other than a dishonest motive to provide financial advantage to himself. Furthermore, the Panel noted that the Registrant has admitted this Particular of Allegation in this hearing. 
 
28 May 2019: Proved.
 
129. The Panel could not find any other alternative innocent, careless/accidental or negligent explanation for the Registrant’s actions other than a dishonest motive to provide financial advantage to himself. Furthermore, the Panel noted that the Registrant has admitted this particular of Allegation in this hearing. 
 
29 May 2019: Proved.
 
130. The Panel could not find any other alternative innocent, careless/accidental or negligent explanation for the Registrant’s actions other than a dishonest motive to provide financial advantage to himself. Furthermore, the Panel noted that the Registrant has admitted this
 
Particular of Allegation in this hearing. 
3 June 2019: Proved.
 
131. The Panel could not find any other alternative innocent, careless/accidental or negligent explanation for the Registrant’s actions other than a dishonest motive to provide financial advantage to himself. In addition, the Panel noted his admission in his 20 June 2019 interview that he had “falsified” customer records, utilising the Sycle system, to facilitate this dishonest act. Furthermore, the Panel noted that the Registrant has admitted this Particular of Allegation in this hearing.
 
5 as to 4: Proved.
 
132. The Panel could find no innocent, careless/accidental or negligent reason for why the Registrant had falsified patient records by recording refunds issued to his personal bank accounts as patient refunds, other than a deliberate attempt to profit his financial position and fortify the situation of his physical and parallel dishonest acts. Therefore, the Panel could only conclude that the Registrant had been dishonest. Furthermore, the Panel noted that the Registrant has admitted this Particular of Allegation in this hearing. 
 
133. In all the Particulars of Allegation 5 found proved, the Panel concluded that the conduct complained of was dishonest by the objective standards of ordinary decent people.
 
Decision on Grounds
 
132. The Panel considered that the conduct undertaken by the Registrant in Particulars of Allegation 1 and 2, which it had concluded were careless or negligent acts, did not amount, either taken together or separately, to misconduct. In the Panel’s judgement, the conduct, whilst falling below the standards expected of an HCPC registrant, was not such as to fall far below the standards expected of an HCPC registrant. The Registrant had made genuine mistakes in relation to both Particulars of Allegation and had not acted deliberately. His evidence, which the Panel accepted as truthful and consistent, indicated that he had wished to separate the monies into two sections on each occasion and he had failed to do so, which the Panel considers to be no more than errors, with no motive to receive financial advantage on either occasion.
 
133. However, in relation to the remaining Particulars of Allegation found proved and admitted, the Panel’s judgement was that, taken in the round, this was serious conduct, comprising  of dishonesty in relation to a relatively large sum of money in excess of £16,400, which, the Panel concluded, was towards the top end of gravity of dishonesty. It was planned by him, as evidenced by the Registrant’s aggravating actions in falsifying the relevant patient records to accord with his dishonest financial acts. 
 
134. The Panel concluded that the Registrant’s dishonest acts took place repeatedly over a period of three months and amounted to seven deliberate and cynical acts of dishonesty, and, thus, these were not isolated acts. The Panel further noted that two of the dishonest acts had taken place on one day.
 
135. The evidence demonstrated that the Registrant had planned his actions and there is no evidence before the Panel that this would have ceased, save for the Registrant having been caught by the company. 
 
136. Moreover, the Panel noted that the Registrant had not been a new employee at Specsavers, having been employed there since 2015. 
 
137. In addition, the Panel considered that, although patients had not been directly adversely affected by his dishonest acts, they had been put at risk of being distressed at being confronted with an inaccurate Specsavers’ record of their hearing aid status.   
 
138. The Panel also concluded that the Registrant had used his clinical professional position to take advantage of patients in order to gain financial advantage for himself. It also concluded that, by his actions, the Registrant had breached the trust of his employer, his patients, his profession and his colleagues. Furthermore, the Panel noted that initially in June 2019, the Registrant had attempted to describe the monies he took as a “loan”, which he later retracted.
 
139. The Panel determined that the Registrant’s conduct had breached two of the Standards, as follows:
 
Standard 9 - be honest and trustworthy.
Standard 9.1 - You must make sure that your conduct justifies the public’s trust and confidence in you and your profession.
Standard 10 – Keep records of your work. 
Standard 10.1 - You must keep full, clear, and accurate records for everyone you care for, treat, or provide other services to.
140. The Panel took into consideration the Registrant’s concession that his conduct had been a “very very serious” falling below of the standards expected by the public and service users of the profession.
141. For the reasons set out above, the Panel concluded that the facts found proved in relation to Particulars of Allegation 3, 4 and 5 as to 3 and 4, but not as to 1 and 2, amount to misconduct.
 
 
Decision on Impairment
 
142. When considering the personal element of Impairment, the Panel noted that this is a serious case of dishonesty towards the top end of the range of dishonest acts, involving several months of repeated and deliberate dishonest behaviour by the Registrant. It acknowledged that remediation in dishonesty cases can be difficult and, in some cases, so difficult as to make some dishonesty cases irremediable. 
 
143. However, in this case, the Panel took into account the legal principle from the case of GMC v Chaudhary [2017] EWHC 2561 (Admin) that when it came to the issue of probity, honesty and trustworthiness, the Panel can consider that dishonesty did not have to be an all-pervading or immutable trait and it could also pay regard to the context of the dishonesty. The Panel concluded that the Registrant’s character and the contextual matters in this case, particularly relating to the Registrant’s efforts at remediation, were such as to demonstrate that remediation has the potential to take place in a dishonesty case, and that it can even be a successful process, as, it concluded, it has been in this case. The Panel was able to conclude that the dishonest traits demonstrated by the Registrant when these events took place were not all-pervading or immutable traits in his character.
 
144. The Panel was impressed by the Registrant’s oral and written evidence of his remediation process and recognised that his remediation was, and continues to be, a journey of discovery and learning. As part of its duty, the Panel is obliged to analyse the period of time from when the dishonest acts took place, when he was clearly impaired, to present day. The Registrant had acknowledged, openly to all concerned from an early stage of the investigations into his misconduct, that he had committed the dishonest acts and deeply regretted them. He had apologised at all times, including in this hearing, to his patients, his colleagues, his former employer, his profession and to his regulatory body. He had driven the remediation process himself at all times, particularly in his latest employment. The Panel noted AA’s evidence, for example, that, in their monthly meetings, the Registrant would be the prime mover in progressing his need to ask for advice, learn and improve his conduct, so as to avoid in the future the issues that arose in this case. 
 
145. The Panel considered that the evidence of AA was exceptional and highly supportive of the Registrant. In the Panel’s judgement, AA was an integrated, thoughtful, intelligent and proactive employer, who gave oral and written testimonials of the Registrant that were unique. AA was so impressed by the Registrant’s remediation, his vast improvement over the two years that he had been employed with AA’s company, the Registrant’s trustworthiness and honesty, his impressive clinical skills, his empathy with patients and the respect he received from other colleagues that two matters had emerged for AA: 
1) the first was that the Registrant’s character, trustworthiness and honesty was at such a high standard now that AA was considering bringing the Registrant, over and above all other 14 employees, into a more senior role to take the responsibility of helping AA as the company’s Financial Controller. This would involve unsupervised access by the Registrant to the company’s bank account;
2) the second matter arising was that, so highly valued was the Registrant to AA, that he expressed the hope that the Registrant would stay at the company “forever”. 
 
146. In the Panel’s judgement, this was the highest level of remediation by the Registrant, as corroborated by his relatively long standing current employer, such as to place this case into a unique category. The Panel, having heard and read all the evidence extensively, was of the view that there was no further remediation that it could extract that would be required by the Registrant to fulfil. Yet, as the Panel noted, he gave oral evidence that he considers this still to be an ongoing, even lifetime, process. 
 
147. The Panel was deeply impressed by the Registrant’s dedication, persistence and resolve in relation to his reflections, understanding and learning about his position when these events had occurred, as well as how he put into practice the lessons he has learnt, so as to avoid recurrence in the future. In the Panel’s judgement, the risk of repetition in this case was extremely low; indeed, almost negligible.
 
148. For these reasons, the Panel was clear that, on personal grounds, the Registrant is not currently impaired.
 
149. However, notwithstanding AA being an Audiologist and that the evidence of AP, an Optometrist, with which the Panel was also impressed, was clearly independent of any personal motive to help the Registrant, the Panel had overwhelming concerns about how an informed member of the public would react if the Registrant was found not to be impaired on public interest grounds. 
 
150. The Panel concluded that the public would be extremely concerned to learn that a professional such as the Registrant had committed several dishonest and premeditated acts over a three month period of time, involving the manipulation of patients’ monies and then falsifying their confidential medical records to support his dishonest acts in a cynical and planned manner. The Panel further concluded that, putting itself into the shoes of a member of the public, including all patients and fellow professionals, the public interest could not be properly represented in this case if, at this time, the Registrant was found not to be impaired.
 
151. Therefore, for these reasons, the Panel determined that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired, at this time, on public interest grounds.
 
Decision on Sanction
 
152. In reaching its decision on sanction, the Panel took into account the submissions of Mr Bridges and Mr Walker. It read all the relevant documentation. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and exercised the principle of proportionality at all times. The Panel took into consideration that sanction should not be primarily punitive, but that it can appear so, subjectively, to Registrants. The Panel also paid regard to the HCPC’s Sanctions Policy.
 
153. The Panel has identified the following mitigating and aggravating factors in the case:
Mitigating factors:
• The Registrant apologised to colleagues, patients and his employer in the 20 June 2019 interview, and since, to the HCPC and to the profession in his oral evidence to the Panel;
• The Registrant made full and frank admissions at an early stage;
• The Registrant had repaid in total the monies he dishonestly took;
• The Registrant had personal issues, including those relating to his health;
• The Registrant had undertaken considerable and wide-ranging reflections;
• The Registrant had actioned those reflections in a positive way;
• The Registrant has achieved full remediation, with his current employer and referees describing him now as “trustworthy” and “honest”;
• The Registrant has full insight;
• There is an almost negligible risk of repetition;
• The Registrant had undertaken relevant courses, including on integrity and the HCPC Standards;
• The Registrant has provided excellent written and oral references and testimonials;
• The events were over a period of 3 months at the end of the 3 year period within which time he had experienced considerable pressure in a financially challenging working environment, together with complex business dealings, of which the Registrant was, to some extent, naive;
• The Registrant had minimal training, support, mentoring or teaching in his then-employment when he agreed to step up to a more senior business role, particularly where there was one debt-ridden store within the portfolio;
• The Registrant has a blemish-free career before, and since, these events;
• The risk of harm to patients was minimal.
Aggravating factors:
• These were not isolated incidents, with a total number of seven incidents, and two of them on one day;
• The Registrant took a substantial sum of money dishonestly from his employer, 
• The Registrant’s dishonesty took place over a three month period;
• The Registrant used his personal credit cards to perpetrate his dishonest acts;
• The Registrant’s dishonesty was only stopped and he repaid the monies, after the company’s audit had uncovered the dishonesty and after the Registrant had been interviewed;
• The Registrant’s dishonest misconduct comprised several breaches of trust of: his employer, his colleagues, the profession of Hearing Aid Dispensers, his patients, and his regulatory body.
• The Registrant’s dishonesty was further aggravated by his concealment activity of attempting to cover up his dishonesty by falsifying the relevant patients’ records.
 
154. The Panel first considered taking no action or mediation and rejected these outcomes. The Panel had already determined that this was a serious case involving dishonesty towards the top end of the category, aggravated by the Registrant’s concealment conduct, demonstrating an organised and motivated set of dishonest acts on his part for his own financial gain.  For these reasons, the Panel is of the opinion that public confidence in the profession and in the regulatory process would be seriously undermined with such outcomes.
 
155. The Panel next considered imposing a Caution Order. When considering a Caution Order in a case of dishonesty, the Panel must pay careful regard to the aggravating and mitigating factors. When the Panel considered the two types of factors to balance in order to determine if a Caution Order would be the most proportionate sanction to impose, in the Panel’s judgement, the aggravating factors outweighed the mitigating factors within this category of sanction. 
 
156. As made clear in its determination on Misconduct and Impairment on public interest grounds alone, the Panel had concluded that the Registrant’s misconduct related to seven dishonest acts in a three month period, with the background that he had secretly falsified the relevant patients’ records to accord with his dishonest acts. This was calculated and deliberate concealment behaviour. The effect was that the Registrant’s misconduct in itself was serious, as dishonesty is seen as so. However, the Panel had also concluded that it reached towards the top end of the scale of dishonest acts and, to aggravate the case further, the Registrant’s concealment behaviour revealed a cynical and planned element to his dishonesty.
 
157. Furthermore, these dishonest acts were not isolated events; it had been repetitious behaviour by the Registrant that took place over a number of months. As stated, the Registrant’s misconduct breached several of the fundamental tenets of the profession.
 
158. In the Panel’s opinion, the Registrant’s misconduct required a sanction that marked its level of seriousness, which could not be properly represented by a Caution Order that has no tangible restriction on practice. The Panel’s findings on the Registrant’s misconduct and public interest impairment did not demonstrate isolated or limited acts, nor were they relatively minor in nature. This was despite the more positive aspects of the Registrant’s personal elements, identified by the Panel when deliberating on that aspect of Impairment and reflected in the mitigating factors identified. 
 
159. For these reasons, the Panel has concluded that public confidence in the profession and in the regulatory process would be severely undermined by the imposition of this sanction.
160. The Panel next considered imposing a Conditions of Practice Order and rejected this. The Panel was not confident that there are any realistic, relevant, workable or enforceable conditions that could address the fundamental issues raised by the dishonesty in this case that have not already been addressed by the Registrant, who has successfully personally remediated these aspects of his case. 
 
161. Furthermore, on public interest grounds, the Panel concluded that had the dishonesty been of a lower category of seriousness, for example, for smaller sums of money, and/or as an isolated event on one day and/or without the Registrant’s secretive concealment conduct, there may have been argument for a less serious sanction than those at the top end of the spectrum available to the Panel. In the Panel’s opinion, this principle could have been invoked in light of its conclusions on the highly positive and unique aspects of the personal elements relating to the Registrant’s lack of impairment, but the public interest aspect of his impairment, as found by the Panel, in its judgement, makes a more serious sanction inevitable.
 
162. The Panel next considered imposing a Suspension Order. In the Panel’s opinion, by his serious, dishonest misconduct over a period of three months, compounded by his concealment conduct after the dishonest acts took place, the Registrant brought the reputation of the profession into disrepute and undermined the confidence that the public is entitled to have in the profession. 
 
163. The Registrant’s misconduct involved deliberate acts for his own financial gain that could have resulted in potential distress to patients, who were entitled to rely on his honesty and integrity. The Panel concluded that the public interest in upholding the reputation and integrity of the profession outweigh any interests of the Registrant, despite the powerful mitigating features and the personal successful remediation in the Registrant’s case. The Panel concluded that the public component of his Impairment, as found, needs to be marked by an appropriate and proportionate sanction. 
 
164. The Panel paid regard to the HCPC’s Sanctions Policy and noted that the Registrant’s case demonstrated clearly that there had been serious breaches of the standards of the profession, that the Registrant has shown full insight, that there was a negligible risk of repetition and, thus, that the matters are unlikely to be repeated and that the Registrant has resolved to remedy his failings identified by this case. The Panel found that he has already successfully completed this remediation, and it also noted that he has vouched to continue it, potentially for the remainder of his professional career. Therefore, the Panel determined that the criteria for imposing a Suspension Order in this case match the components identified as being required in the HCPC’s Sanctions Policy. 
 
165. Furthermore, the Panel concluded that this was not a case that required the public interest element to be marked by a Striking Off Order. In the Panel’s judgement, the Registrant’s remarkable remediation on his dishonesty, successfully completed by him, so that recurrence in the future is unlikely, his insight and extremely favourable and supportive oral and written testimonial witnesses place this case in a category that counters against a Striking Off sanction, which would be disproportionate and punitive. 
 
166. Therefore, for these reasons, the Panel determined that the only appropriate and proportionate sanction is that of a Suspension Order, on public interest grounds.
 
167. The Panel next considered how it could mark, in the most proportionate and fair way, the Panel’s findings on the Registrant’s successful progress to personal fitness to practise. It noted the importance of keeping a valued practitioner within the profession as much as possible and that AA had assured the Panel that the Registrant’s employment would remain secured at his present company, even with a (hypothetical) permanent removal from the Register. 
 
168. The Panel determined that, to reflect these elements of the case, the period of suspension should be for a period of time that would represent both the public interest in marking the seriousness of the case, as described, and the Registrant’s own interests, as also set out, as well as his interest, his employer’s and his patients’ interests in the Registrant returning expeditiously and fully to his chosen profession. 
 
169. For these reasons, the Panel concluded that the Suspension Order should be for a period of four (4) months. 
 
170. As stated, the Panel had considered the higher sanction of Striking Off and had rejected this. The Panel considered that going to that level would be disproportionately punitive, for the reasons stated above.

 

Order

That the Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Deep M Patel for a period of four months from the date this order comes into effect.

Notes

This Order will be reviewed before its expiry. 
 
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 Article 29(10) of the Health Professions Order 2001, any appeal must be made within 28 days of the date when this notice is served on you. The Panel’s order will not take effect until the appeal period has expired or, if you appeal, until that appeal is disposed of or withdrawn.
 
Decision on Interim Order:
 
The Panel noted the submissions of Mr Bridges, seeking an Interim Suspension Order of 18 months and Mr Walker, who opposed it. In reaching its decision, the Panel has accepted the Legal Assessor’s advice and has paid regard to the HCPC’s Practice Note on Interim Orders.
 
The Panel has made decisions on this case, culminating in the imposition of a Sanction of a four month Suspension Order to reflect the seriousness of the dishonest misconduct found proved. 
 
The Panel took into consideration that this was not a case based on public protection, as there were no Particulars of Allegation in relation to the Registrant’s clinical practice, which was described as “excellent” by his present employer, AA. Hence, the Panel determined that the only real ground for imposing an Interim Order after sanction in this case would be on public interest grounds only, where, certainly in pre final hearing cases, the bar is set higher for an Interim Order to be imposed. The Panel noted that this relates to the severely detrimental effects that any Interim Order has on a registrant’s financial and reputational status.
 
In this exceptional and unique case, as identified by the Panel in its substantive reasons, the Registrant has been found by the Panel to be fit to practise on personal grounds, but not on the public Impairment ground. The sanction imposed was to mark the seriousness of the matters found proved and was not required, in this case, to protect the public. Protecting the public is recognised in the profession and in case law as the overwhelmingly most important ground for all actions that mark conduct in the regulatory process. Although public perception of all cases, including this one, is vital to mark, in the Panel’s judgement, the Panel has done so, by the imposition of the sanction of a four month Suspension Order. The Panel determined that the principle of imposing an Interim Order, without more, on the public interest ground only, to cover any appeal period, does not extend to the more punitive aspects of imposing an Interim Order after sanction in this unusual and exceptional case.
 
The Registrant has been working in AA’s company for two years with no complaints against him in that time. Indeed, the Panel has expressly referred on the Registrant’s remarkable remediation which has brought him to full fitness to practise on personal grounds. Furthermore, the Registrant’s referees, both written and oral, have given glowing testimonials about his clinical skills. His current employer, AA, gave evidence that the Registrant is now an honest and trustworthy person, supporting his opinion by referring to his plan to make the Registrant a Co-Finance Controller with AA in the company. AA also referred to the Registrant’s continuing proactive and enthusiastic commitment to his remediation, as the Registrant himself vouched to do, potentially for the remainder of his professional career, in his oral evidence to the Panel.
 
The Panel concluded that this powerful evidence was sufficient to permit a period of adjustment for the Registrant, AA, AA’s company and the patients that the Registrant has been treating, before the four month Suspension Order comes into effect. This will be in 28 days only if there is no appeal and longer if there is one. 
 
The Panel concluded that there had been no evidence at any stage of this hearing to indicate that this Registrant would be a risk to patients. The Panel further determined that, for the reasons set out, an informed member of the public would not be shocked or concerned if no Interim Order was to be imposed to cover the intervening period before his sanction comes into effect. 
 
For these reasons, the Panel determined that an Interim Order was not necessary to protect the public, that it was not otherwise in the public interest and that it was not in the Registrant’s own interests.
 
 

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Deep M Patel

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
04/04/2022 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended
10/05/2021 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Adjourned