Miss Dionne Champion
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Whilst registered with the Health and Care Professions Council as an Operating Department Practitioner:
- On 22 January 2018 at Exeter Magistrates’ Court you were convicted of having committed fraud between 2 May 2016 and 13 March 2017 in that you dishonestly failed to disclose to Exeter County Council that Person A had not moved into your address, which you were under a legal duty to disclose intending, by that failure, to make a gain, namely the payment of rent, for yourself.
- By reason of your conviction, your fitness to practise as an Operating Department Practitioner is impaired.
Proof of Service
1. The Panel was provided with a copy of the Notice of Hearing that had been e-mailed to the Registrant’s registered e-mail address on 1 August 2022 at 17.20 pm and a copy of an email from email@example.com dated the same day and time confirming that the email had been “delivered”.
2. The Panel noted that the date and time of the review hearing was confirmed in the Notice of Hearing and the Registrant was offered the opportunity to participate. The Panel further noted that, although the Registrant did not immediately respond to the request to confirm whether she would be attending the hearing, she had responded to an email sent by the HCPC Hearings Officer on 30 August 2022, in the following terms:
“As I have said in previous emails, I won't be attending the hearing. I am no longer able to work due to ill health so no longer need my ODP registration.
If you could please cancel my registration, and stop inviting me to hearings I would be eternally grateful.”
3. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel was satisfied that the Notice of Hearing had been properly served in accordance with the Rules and that the Registrant had been given a reasonable opportunity to participate.
Proceeding in Absence
4. Ms Khorassani made an application for the hearing to proceed in the absence of the Registrant in accordance with Rule 9.
5. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and took into account the guidance as set out in the HCPTS Practice Note "Proceeding in Absence" and the chronology of events as set out above.
6. The Panel determined that it was reasonable and in the public interest to proceed with the hearing for the following reasons:
(i) The HCPC had made reasonable and sufficient efforts to provide the Registrant with the opportunity to participate in these proceedings. Further, the Registrant had made it clear in unambiguous terms that she did not intend attending any hearing. In these circumstances, the Panel was satisfied that it was reasonable to conclude that the Registrant's non-attendance represented a deliberate waiver of her right to participate in these proceedings by video-conference.
(ii) There was no application before the Panel to adjourn the hearing and it had no confidence that the Registrant would attend on an alternative date, given her previous lack of engagement and her indication in her email of 30 August 2022 that she no longer needed her ODP registration and that she did not want to be invited to any further hearings. The Panel therefore concluded that re-listing this review hearing was unlikely to serve any useful purpose.
(iii) The current suspension order is due to expire on 2 September 2022 and therefore it was in the public interest to have a mandatory review of that order.
(iv) The Panel appreciated that there may be some disadvantage to the Registrant in not being able to give evidence or make oral submissions. However, the Panel noted that, since the initial suspension order was made on 2 September 2020, the Registrant had not had any meaningful engagement with the HCPC or with the hearing process, despite regular invitations to provide information about her situation. Accordingly, it considered that it was unlikely that the Registrant wished to say anything more to the Panel and therefore concluded that this potential disadvantage was outweighed by the public interest in ensuring that the hearing is heard and concluded expeditiously.
7. The Panel took account of the background of this matter, as comprehensively set out in the previous Review Panel’s decision (where the Panel has quoted extracts from a previous panel’s decision verbatim, it has done so because they succinctly and comprehensively summarise the relevant issues so the Panel sees no benefit in re-writing the same):
6. The Registrant is a registered Operating Department Practitioner. On 19 January 2018, she notified the HCPC of an upcoming court appearance for dishonestly claiming that a second person had moved into her property in order to claim Housing Benefit payments from Exeter City Council.
7. On 22 January 2018, the Registrant pleaded guilty at Exeter Magistrates Court and was convicted of fraud. The value of the fraud was £3,345.30. The Registrant was sentenced to 15 weeks imprisonment, suspended for 12 months.
8. At a final hearing on 2 September 2020 the Panel found the conviction proved by the certified Memorandum of conviction. Having considered the Registrant’s written submissions at the investigation stage, the Final Hearing Panel concluded that the Registrant had not sufficiently and adequately demonstrated that she accepts full responsibility for her dishonest behaviour which led to the conviction, its seriousness and the impact on colleagues, the profession and the public. The Registrant had not shown sufficient insight and reflection into her conviction and the underlying dishonesty, and she had not provided any information of the steps she has taken to remediate her practice. The Final Hearing Panel concluded that the Registrant has in the past and is liable in the future to act dishonestly and that her fitness to practise was impaired on the personal aspect of impairment.
9. The Final Hearing Panel also considered the public component of impairment and noted that the Registrant had been convicted of fraud involving public funds being dishonestly claimed in housing benefit. The Panel decided that to maintain public confidence in the profession and the regulator it was necessary and appropriate to find that the Registrant’s fitness to practise currently impaired. This finding was also required to declare and uphold proper standards.
10. The Final Hearing Panel considered the appropriate and proportionate sanction and decided that a twelve-month Suspension Order was sufficient to protect the public and that this sanction sent an appropriate message to the public and the profession that the Registrant’s behaviour was totally unacceptable.
11. The Final Hearing Panel stated in their determination that a future reviewing Panel might be assisted by the Registrant providing a full, reflective piece demonstrating well developed insight and remediation. Any relevant references or testimonials might also be helpful.
12. The Panel was provided with e-mail correspondence between the Registrant’s case manager and the Registrant relating to the possibility of the Registrant voluntarily removing herself from the Register. On 22 February the Registrant stated that she wanted to “deregister” “due to my failing health”. The Registrant’s case manager wrote to the Registrant on 13 May 2021 explaining the HCPC voluntary removal agreement process and setting out the information that she should provide if she wished the HCPC to consider this option. Under the voluntary removal process it is not sufficient for a Registrant to state that they wish to be removed from the Register. The Registrant must engage with the process and provide written information to the HCPC, including a statement that they admit that their fitness to practise is impaired. The Registrant did not provide the information set out in the letter dated 13 May 2021. On 3 August 2021 she sent an e-mail stating she wanted to cancel her registration and that she would not be attending any hearing.
13. On 25 August 2021 the Case Manager followed up this correspondence with a further e-mail, attaching the letter from 13 May 2021, and inviting the Registrant to provide a written response with the further information. The Case Manager also invited the Registrant to contact her if she wished to discuss the matter. The Registrant replied by e-mail dated 25 August 2021: “This is my second reply today. I do not wish for my registration to be reinstated due to my ill health”. The Registrant has not provided the information (as set out in the letter of 13 May 2021) that is required to enable the HCPC to consider the option of a voluntary removal agreement.”
8. In determining whether the Registrant remained impaired, the previous Review Panel noted that:
“17. The Panel considered whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired. The only information before the Panel is the Registrant’s statements that she no longer wishes to be registered as an ODP and references to her ill health. The Panel has no information about this ill-health and was unable to assess whether it might have had any impact on the Registrant’s ability to provide any evidence relating to insight or remediation to this reviewing panel.
18. The Panel concluded that there is no evidence of any relevant change in circumstances since the decision of the Final Hearing Panel. Although the Registrant has repeatedly stated that she does not intend to practise, this is not relevant to whether she is fit to practise. The position therefore remains that the Registrant has not demonstrated that she accepts full responsibility for her dishonest behaviour and has not shown sufficient insight and reflection into her conviction. Consequently, there remains a risk of repetition of dishonest behaviour. The Panel therefore decided that the Registrant’s fitness to practise remains impaired on the basis of the personal component.
19. In the absence of any evidence that the Registrant is acknowledging and addressing her past dishonest conduct, the Panel concluded that a finding of current impairment is also required to maintain public confidence in the profession and to uphold the required standards of conduct and behaviour.”
9. In relation to Sanction, the previous Review Panel gave its specific reasons for its decision as follows:
“20. The Panel next considered the appropriate sanction and had regard to the Sanctions Policy. The Panel decided that the option of taking no action or imposing a Caution Order would not be sufficient to protect the public because of the ongoing risk of repetition of dishonest conduct.
21. The behaviour in this case cannot be addressed by imposing conditions of practice because it involves dishonesty outside the workplace. Conditions would also be insufficient, inappropriate and unworkable in circumstances where the Registrant’s only engagement with the HCPC is to state that she does not wish her registration to be reinstated.
22. The Panel next considered the option of a Suspension Order. This option would be sufficient to protect the public and safeguard the public interest because the Registrant will be unable to practise as an ODP. The Panel also considered the more serious sanction of a Striking Off Order which is the sanction of last resort. The Panel decided that at this stage a Striking Off Order would be disproportionate. In reaching this decision the Panel took into account the Registrant’s references to her ill-health. The Panel has no information to assess the relevance of the Registrant’s ill health, but was unable to exclude that it may be relevant. The Panel also considered the Registrant’s interests. It considered that if her health recovers she may wish to engage in the process and provide evidence for a review Panel. Alternatively, she may wish to review the information sent to her on 13 May 2021 on the option of voluntary removal.
23. The Panel therefore decided that the appropriate and proportionate order is a Suspension Order for the maximum period of twelve months. The maximum period is appropriate to allow time for the Registrant’s health to improve and for her to prepare evidence for a review Panel.”
10. Finally, the previous Review Panel made the following suggestion:
“24. The Panel considered that a future reviewing Panel might be assisted by the Registrant providing a full, reflective written piece demonstrating well developed insight and remediation. Any relevant references or testimonials may also be helpful.”
Ms Khorassani’s submissions
11. Ms Khorassani made the following submissions. She confirmed that the HCPC had received no updating documents or submissions from the Registrant to put before the Panel today as there had been no meaningful engagement from the Registrant with these proceedings since before the September 2021 hearing. Ms Khorassani confirmed that she had sent an email to the Registrant on 4 August 2022, setting out the HCPC’s position and inviting submissions, but this had not been responded to. The only information from the Registrant was that set out in her email of 30 August 2022 (referred to above) which stated that she could no longer work as an ODP due to unspecified ill-health and that she wanted her registration cancelled.
12. Ms Khorassani submitted that the question for the Panel to consider today was what, if anything, had changed since the current order was imposed or last reviewed. The questions for the Panel to ask itself were whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise remained impaired and had she done enough to address the concerns raised by the previous Panel. Ms Khorassani referred the Panel to the previous Panel’s decision which made suggestions as to what a future panel was likely to be assisted by (as set out above) but reminded the Panel that it had not received any of the suggested evidence and neither had the Registrant attended today. This meant that the Panel had no evidence before it that the issues relating to the Registrant’s insight and acceptance of responsibility for her dishonest actions, despite the length of time available to her.
13. Accordingly, Ms Khorassani submitted that nothing had changed since the previous hearing. Consequently, she argued that the Registrant’s fitness to practise was likely to have remained impaired on both the personal and public components. In relation to sanction, Ms Khorassani stated that the HCPC was neutral and that, although a further 12 month Suspension Order might be justified, all options were open to the Panel.
14. The Panel noted the submissions of Ms Khorassani and considered the advice of the Legal Assessor, who confirmed that it was entitled to use the previous Review Panel’s findings as a starting point and to presume impairment but to consider whether there had been any changes in the Registrant’s situation since the last hearing in deciding whether there was any current impairment. It also had regard to the HCPTS’ Practice Notes entitled “Finding that Fitness to Practise is “Impaired”” and “Review of Article 30 Sanction Orders”. The Panel was aware that, in determining whether fitness to practise is impaired, it had to take account of a range of issues which, in essence, comprised two components, namely the ‘personal’ component (the current competence and behaviour of the individual Registrant) and the ‘public’ component (the need to protect service users, declare and uphold proper standards of behaviour and maintain public confidence in the profession).
15. The Panel first considered whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise remained impaired. It concluded unhesitatingly that it was. In respect of the personal component, it noted that the Registrant had not engaged with the previous Review Panel nor had she engaged in any meaningful way with the HCPC subsequently or with this Panel. There was no information before this Panel to suggest that she had gained insight, accepted full responsibility for her crime or remediated her failings and consequently there remained a significant risk of repetition. Moreover, the Panel noted that, even when asked to cooperate with the HCPC in the process of voluntarily removing her from the Register (which was her stated wish) the Registrant had declined to do so. Further, she had not taken the opportunity to supply the information suggested by either previous panel which would have been helpful to this Panel. The Panel therefore concluded that, as there was no apparent change in the Registrant’s situation, even since August 2020, she remained impaired in relation to the personal component.
16. In respect of the public component, the Panel considered that a finding of impairment was necessary in the public interest. The Panel considered that a member of the public fully informed of the facts of the case would expect there to be a finding of impairment in respect of a Registrant who had failed to engage with the process and had not remediated her criminality and dishonesty, despite being given two years to do so.
ORDER: The Registrar is directed to strike the name of Miss Dionne Champion from the Register on the date this Order comes into effect
The Order imposed today will apply from 30 September 2022