Colette Wood

Profession: Operating department practitioner

Registration Number: ODP14431

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 14/02/2022 End: 17:00 16/02/2022

Location: Virtual Hearing via Video Conference

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Caution

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Allegation

As a registered Operating Department Practitioner (ODP14431) your fitness to practise is impaired by reason of misconduct. In that:

1. On or around 12 June 2020 you shared a post on the social media network site Facebook that contained offensive content. In that:

a. The post included racial stereotyping.

b. The post implied that certain ethnic groups are afforded privileges that others are not.

2. The matters set out in allegation 1 constitute misconduct.

3. By reason of your misconduct your fitness to practice is impaired.

Finding

Preliminary Matters

Presence of Registrant’s partner

1.The Panel agreed the Registrant’s partner could remain in the hearing to provide her with moral support.

Application to amend

2. An unopposed application was made to amend particular 1(b) by substituting the word “inferred” with “implied”, this to correct the intended meaning of the sentence.

Application to proceed in private

3. Miss Constantine applied for those parts of the hearings to refer to the private life and health of the Registrant to be heard in private. The Registrant applied for the entirety of the case to be heard in private. In the knowledge that this hearing is a public one and reassuring the Registrant that those parts of the hearing that mention her private life or health would not be read by the public, the Panel decided that it was appropriate to grant the application of the HCPC.

Background

4. The Registrant, a professional of some 20 years’ experience, was employed as an operational departmental practitioner (ODP) by the Trust from 25 September 2000. The Registrant was a Band 5 member of staff, responsible for the care of patients undergoing elective and trauma surgery.

5. On 12 June 2020 the Registrant shared a post on Facebook which contained offensive material, of a racially insensitive nature. This forms the content of the factual particulars of the Allegation in this case (particulars 1a and 1b).

6. On 15 June 2020 Person 1, an employee of the Trust in a role of matron, was shown the post by two aggrieved members of staff and asked the Registrant about it. The Registrant confirmed that the post had been published on her personal Facebook account, although she had not written the post herself. She had shared it from someone else’s post. At the request of Person 1, it was deleted.

7. The Trust began an investigation into the matter which resulted in a meeting with the Registrant on 30 June 2020, during the course of which the Registrant agreed that the language in the Facebook post was unacceptable and could be interpreted as racism, not least language such as “you rob us, car jack and rape our daughters” in relation to non-white people. During this meeting the Registrant, who was visibly upset, confirmed her understanding of the HCPC Standards for her role as an ODP.

8. After a disciplinary hearing, the Registrant was dismissed from the Trust on 5 August 2020.

9. On 18 August 2020 the Registrant self-referred to the HCPC.

Decision on Facts

10. Person 1 gave oral evidence in this case, none of which was disputed by the Registrant who in cross examination was restricted to asking questions about the witness’s knowledge of her (the Registrant’s) good character and abilities.

11. The Registrant did not give evidence herself, having accepted from the outset that she was responsible for the actions described in particular 1 of the Allegation. In a body of evidence supplied to the HCPC since the matter was referred, the Registrant went out of her way to admit that she had forwarded the Facebook post in question and that it contained offensive material. She apologised profusely and said she was deeply ashamed.

12. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and paid due regard to the submissions from Miss Constantine.

13. As such, the Panel made the following findings. Particulars 1(a) and 1(b) were found proved, having been admitted by the Registrant and confirmed by the documentary and oral evidence.

Decision on Grounds

14. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and was aware that misconduct could not be found unless it judged that the conduct concerned was serious and brought the profession into disrepute.

15. As was the case with the facts, the Registrant herself accepted that her conduct, albeit on a single occasion, was sufficiently serious to amount to misconduct.

16. In all the circumstances, the Panel found it impossible to disagree with that contention and took particularly into account the fact that two members of staff at the hospital were so offended by reading the Facebook post in question that they immediately reported it to Person 1.

17. In the view of the Panel, the conduct found proved amounted to a breach of the following Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics;

1.5 You must not discriminate against service users, carers or colleagues by allowing your personal views to affect your professional relationships or the care, treatment or other services that you provide.

1.6 You must challenge colleagues if you think that they have discriminated against, or are discriminating against, service users, carers and colleagues.

2.7 You must use all forms of communication appropriately and responsibly, including social media and networking websites

9.1 You must make sure that your conduct justifies the public's trust and confidence in your profession.

18. Accordingly, the Panel’s judgement is that the allegation of misconduct is well founded.

Decision on Impairment

19. The Panel went on to consider the issue of impairment by reason of the Registrant's misconduct. It had careful regard to all the evidence before it and to the submissions of Ms Constantine for the HCPC and those made by Ms Wood. It accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and had particular regard to the HCPTS Practice Note on “Fitness to Practise Impairment”.

20. The Registrant submitted a number of documents including a reflection and relevant training certificates and a considerable number of character references. The Panel has heard oral evidence from the Registrant in which she adopted the content of those documents. The Panel also heard character evidence from the Registrant’s partner. The Panel also heard character evidence from the Registrant’s current line manager, RD.

21. Ms Constantine for the HCPC submitted that the Registrant’s fitness to practice was impaired. Ms Constantine submitted that in considering whether the misconduct had been remedied and was unlikely to be repeated the Panel should consider the degree of insight and remediation shown by the Registrant. Further, she submitted that the Panel should consider whether the need to uphold proper professional standards would be undermined if a finding of impairment were not made in this case.

22. The Registrant reminded the Panel of all of the evidence before it and asked it to take into account her extensive remediation. The Registrant drew the Panel’s attention to her expressions of regret, remorse and her apology. The Registrant submitted that the misconduct occurred during a time when she was under significant pressure, and she had made extensive efforts to remediate her failings and the Panel could be confident that there would be no repetition. The Registrant reminded the Panel of her evidence that her Facebook page was never in the public domain and that the post was removed. The Registrant expressed that although that was no excuse she was of the opinion there was no member of the public affected. The Registrant submitted that she was of good character until this episode and was clearly well thought of by colleagues who have supported her even after her conduct came to light.

23. The Registrant submitted that this conduct was completely out of character and that the views contained within the post were not reflective of her character. The Registrant stated that her work with mentoring students and her involvement in the LGBTQ+ movement reflected her values on diversity and inclusion which she also passed on to her children.

24. The Panel first considered past impairment. It noted its findings that the Registrant had shared a discriminatory Facebook post which so offended two of her colleagues that they raised the matter with the Trust. The Registrant was subsequently dismissed from the Trust. The Panel had also found that the Registrant’s misconduct had breached key standards of the HCPC’s “Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics” as set out above, had brought the profession into disrepute and had undermined confidence in the profession.

25. The Panel went on to consider whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired by reason of that misconduct. In addressing the personal component of impairment, the Panel asked itself whether the Registrant is liable, now and in the future, to repeat misconduct of the kind found proved. In reaching its decision, the Panel had particular regard to the issues of insight and remediation.

26. The Panel noted that in the case of CHRE v NMC & Grant [2011] EWHC 927 (Admin) Mrs Justice Cox stated: “When considering whether or not fitness to practise is currently impaired, the level of insight shown by the practitioner is central to a proper determination of that issue.”

27. The Registrant has expressed within the documents and in her evidence an apology and has explained that she feels shame, embarrassment and remorse.

28. The Panel had careful regard to Silber J’s guidance in Cohen v GMC [2008] EWHC 581 (Admin) that Panels should take account of:

• Whether the conduct which led to the charge is easily remediable;
• Whether it has been remedied; and
• Whether it is highly unlikely to be repeated.

29. The Panel recognised that remediation of misconduct which involves attitudinal matters may be less easy than remediation of misconduct involving clinical failings. The Panel had regard to the context of the misconduct and the fact that it occurred within a time that was challenging for the Registrant.

30. The Panel accepted the oral evidence of RD and the written references in the bundle that the Registrant is an excellent practitioner and has had a long career. The Panel noted that there had never been any issues with the Registrant’s practice before this incident.

31. The Panel took into account that the Registrant has been open and transparent throughout the process and self-referred to the HCPC. The Registrant made her new employer aware of the reasons for her dismissal from the Trust at interview and has taken responsibility for her conduct at an early stage.

32. The Panel accepted that the Registrant has learned extensively from this experience and is considered as a role model for others. The Panel accepted that the Registrant’s judgement may have been clouded by some of the difficult circumstances she faced at the time. The Panel considered that the Registrant had taken proactive and meaningful steps to address her difficulties and was impressed with her development of coping strategies. The Panel considered that the Registrant had done everything that could be asked of her in order to understand the reasons for her conduct and to prevent any repetition.

33. The Panel also noted that the Registrant has continued to work as an ODP in her new post since September 2020 and that there has been no repetition of the misconduct. RD told the Panel that there has not been any derogatory comments about the Registrant from any colleague or patient and she is well liked and respected. RD described the Registrant as a credit to the profession.

34. In light of its findings in relation to insight and remediation, the Panel considered that there was no significant risk that the Registrant would repeat matters of the kind found proved. For these reasons, the Panel determined that a finding of impairment is not required on the personal component.

35. The Panel then went on to consider whether a finding of impairment is necessary on public interest grounds.  In addressing this component of impairment, the Panel had careful regard to the critically important public issues identified by Silber J in the case of Cohen when he said:

“Any approach to the issue of whether .... fitness to practise should be regarded as ‘impaired’ must take account of…the collective need to maintain confidence in the profession as well as declaring and upholding proper standards of conduct and behaviour.”

36. The Panel considered that acting without discrimination is a cornerstone of the profession, and the public rightly expects professionals to treat people fairly and with respect. The Panel considered that the public would be very concerned to learn of the Registrant’s conduct in this matter which caused offence to colleagues. The Panel considered that although the Registrant was experiencing difficulties and this was an isolated lapse of judgement, these did not amount to exceptional circumstances which would justify the conclusion that a finding of impairment was not required. The Panel did not consider that this was a case in which a finding of misconduct alone would be sufficient to uphold professional standards and confidence in the profession. The Panel concluded that given the gravity of the misconduct and the offensive nature of the Facebook post, the need to maintain public confidence in the profession, and to declare and uphold proper standards, would be undermined if a finding of impairment of fitness to practise was not made in the circumstances of this case. 

37. For all the reasons set out above, the Panel determined that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired on public interest grounds.

Decision on Sanction

38. Having determined that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired by reason of her misconduct, the Panel next went on to consider whether it was impaired to a degree which required action to be taken on her registration by way of the imposition of a sanction.

39. The Panel had regard to all of the evidence in the case and the submissions made by Ms Constantine and the Registrant.

40. Miss Constantine submitted that sanction was a matter for the Panel and the HCPC was neutral on what sanction was appropriate. Miss Constantine drew the Panel’s attention to the Sanctions Policy (the Policy) and reminded the Panel of its findings in relation to misconduct and impairment. She submitted that two of the Registrant’s colleagues had been so offended by the Facebook post that they reported the matter to their line manager and did not wish to have any further contact with the Registrant or receive her apology. Miss Constantine submitted that the Registrant should have reasonably foreseen the risk of harm arising from her misconduct.

41. The Registrant submitted that she accepted the Panel’s findings in relation to impairment and re-iterated her remorse and apology. She submitted that she accepted that a sanction was likely and submitted that either a Caution Order or a Conditions of Practice Order would be appropriate and proportionate. The Registrant reminded the Panel of her extensive remediation and character references and the extensive learning and reflection she has undertaken. The Registrant submitted that there was no risk of repetition. The Registrant submitted that she had never been suspended during the course of these proceedings and a suspension order would be unduly punitive. The Registrant submitted that she has learned and continues to learn from this incident and a Caution Order or Conditions of Practice Order would allow her to remain in employment.

42. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and exercised its independent judgement. The Panel had regard to the Policy and considered the sanctions in ascending order of severity. The Panel was aware that the purpose of a sanction is not to be punitive but to protect members of the public and to safeguard the wider public interest, which includes upholding standards within the profession, together with maintaining public confidence in the profession and its regulatory process.

43. The Panel first identified what it considered to be the principal aggravating and mitigating factors in this case.

Aggravating factors:

  • The Registrant's Facebook post offended her colleagues and undermined her relationship with them to the extent that they did not want to have any contact with the Registrant or accept her apology.
  • The Registrant’s actions were reckless in sharing a highly offensive post which had the potential to cause harm.

Mitigating factors:

  • The Registrant has apologised and expressed genuine remorse;
  • The Registrant has a significant insight and has taken full responsibility for her actions;
  • The Registrant has had a lengthy professional career and there have been no previous regulatory concerns;
  • This was an isolated incident and out of character;
  • The post was removed promptly when it was brought to the Registrant’s attention;
  • Colleagues speak highly of the Registrant’s character and her abilities;
  • The Registrant has taken significant and meaningful remedial steps to access support and address the wider reasons for her misconduct;
  • The Registrant has learned from her experience and shared her learning with others;
  • The Registrant self-referred and has engaged both with the disciplinary investigation and the HCPC.
  • The Registrant has been open and transparent throughout the process.

44. The Panel considered the sanctions available, beginning with the least restrictive. The Panel did not consider the options of taking no further action, or mediation, to be appropriate or proportionate in the circumstances of this case. The Panel considered that in light of the findings made in relation to impairment and the need to uphold proper professional standards these options would not reflect the seriousness of the case. 

45. The Panel next considered the imposition of a Caution Order. The Panel noted that this would remain on the Registrant’s record and could be taken into account if any further allegation was made. The Panel took into account the factors in the Policy that would make this sanction appropriate and had particular regard to paragraphs 101 and 102.

46. The Panel considered that the Registrant had shown extensive insight, remorse and remediation and the risk of repetition was very low. In addition, it had not found that there was any risk to patients which would justify restricting the Registrant’s practice. The nature of the allegations are such that no meaningful practice restrictions could be imposed. It was the view of the Panel a Suspension Order would be disproportionate in these circumstances and would deprive the public of a committed and competent ODP. The Panel considered that temporary removal from the Register was not required to uphold the public interest, especially where there was no significant risk of repetition, no patient harm and the Registrant has fully remediated the concerns.

47. The Panel considered that to impose a Caution Order would protect the public interest and mark the conduct of the Registrant as unacceptable. It would also serve as a reminder to the Registrant that any repeat of this conduct may lead to a more severe sanction. The Panel considered that in the circumstances a Caution Order for a period of 3 years was appropriate and proportionate and reflected the seriousness of the matters found proved. The Panel considered 3 years was at the higher end of the scale and reflected the seriousness of the misconduct and was sufficient to protect public confidence in the profession.

Order

ORDER: The Registrar is directed to annotate the register entry of Colette Wood with a caution which is to remain on the register for a period of 3 years from the date this order comes into effect.

Notes

No notes available

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Colette Wood

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
14/02/2022 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Caution
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