Mrs Maureen Bennie

Profession: Biomedical scientist

Registration Number: BS40800

Hearing Type: Review Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 14/09/2022 End: 17:00 14/09/2022

Location: This hearing is being held virtually.

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Suspended

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Allegation

As a registered Biomedical Scientist (BS40800) your fitness to practise is impaired by reason of misconduct in that:

1. Between 19th October and 28th December 2017, at John Lewis, Buchanan Galleries, Glasgow, you obtained goods and money to which you were not entitled totalling a value of £1660 from John Lewis.

2. Your conduct in relation to allegation 1 above was dishonest.

3. The matters set out in allegations 1 and 2 above constitute misconduct.

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

 

Finding

Preliminary Matters
Service
1. The Panel has been provided with a Service Bundle. Within the Service Bundle the Panel has seen a Notice of Hearing that was sent by email to the Registrant at her registered email address on 17 August 2022. That email gave details that a hearing would take place, provided the date and the mode of hearing. The Panel has also seen a Certificate of Service.
2. The Panel has seen a response from the Registrant in the form of an email dated 5 September 2022 which indicates that she does not wish to attend the hearing today.
3. Having considered the evidence before it, the Panel is satisfied that the Registrant has been served with proper notice of today’s hearing and therefore, good service has been achieved.
Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant
4. The Panel considered the submissions made by Ms Khorassani on behalf of the HCPC, inviting it to continue today in the absence of the Registrant. Ms Khorassani made the point that this was a mandatory review, the Registrant through the email she had provided has voluntarily absented herself, the interests of fairness fall in favour of the hearing going ahead.
5. The Panel has taken into account the HCPTS Practice Note on “Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant”. The Legal Assessor reminded the Panel that it must strike a balance between fairness to the Registrant and fairness to the wider public interest and ensuring that there is an adequate focus on public protection when reaching a decision upon whether to proceed in the absence of the Registrant. The Legal Assessor outlined the key principles of R v Hayward [2001] EWCA Crim 168 as qualified by the House of Lords in R v Jones [2002] UKHL 5. The Panel accepted this advice.
6. The Panel paid particular regard to the email sent by the Registrant on 5 September 2022 explaining that she:
a. will not be attending the hearing;
b. will not be making any submissions;
c. has left the service and will not be returning;
d. wishes to be removed permanently from the register.
7. In those circumstances the Panel concluded that the Registrant had voluntarily absented herself, that she was unlikely to attend if an adjournment were granted and no purpose would be served by adjourning the hearing today. In view of the fact that this is a mandatory review hearing the Panel having balanced the competing requirements of ensuring fairness to the Registrant, fairness to the wider public interest and the need for public protection concluded that the hearing should go ahead today in the absence of the Registrant.
Proceeding in Private
8. Ms Khorassani, on behalf of the HCPC, made an application under Rule 10(1) of the Health Professions Council (Conduct and Competence) (Procedure) Rules 2003 to hold part of today’s hearing in private. She reminded the Panel that the Substantive Hearing had been held in private and that there would be matters raised today that related to the Registrant’s health or private and family life which should be heard in private.
9. Having accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and considered the HCPTS Practice Note on “Conducting Hearings in Private”, the Panel agreed to grant the application, having concluded that the right of the Registrant to protection of her health or private and family life outweighed the general presumption that hearings being conducted in public.
10. The Panel therefore granted the application under Rule 10 1 (a) for part of the hearing to be in private.

Background
11. The Registrant was employed as a Biomedical Scientist in the Haematology Department by Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS.
12. On 15 July 2019 the Registrant made a self-referral to the HCPC and disclosed that she had been charged with an offence of fraud. In early 2018 the Registrant was contacted by the Police, following a report of fraud by an employee of John Lewis. It was alleged that during the period between 19 October 2017 and 28 December 2018 the Registrant had engaged in ticket swapping and refund fraud and that she had made financial gains of £1660 to the detriment of John Lewis.
13. The Registrant entered a guilty plea to the criminal charges. In August 2019 the Glasgow Sheriff Court granted the Registrant an absolute discharge. No penalty was imposed, and no conviction was recorded.
14. No further action was taken following the outcome at the Glasgow Sheriff Court, and the Registrant’s employer sought to support her through a referral to Occupational Health.
15. At the outset of the substantive hearing the Registrant admitted the factual element of the particulars. The Registrant did admit that she had been dishonest and that her conduct amounted to misconduct. The Registrant did not accept that her fitness to practise was impaired.
16. The original panel heard no live evidence on behalf of the HCPC. On behalf of the Registrant they heard directly from her and from her manager at the Trust. The original panel was provided with specific legal advice outlining the test for dishonesty as set out in Ivey v Genting Casinos (UK) Ltd [2017] UKSC67. The panel found the entire Allegation proved.
17. It also took account of the fact that she was a well-respected, competent and committed Biomedical Scientist whose professionalism had been beyond reproach.
18. The original panel did make findings that the Registrant was aware that what she was doing was dishonest and was seeking to hide her actions. It took particular note of the fact that she had used a number of different methods to obtain a monetary benefit, and these did not accord with her explanation that the behaviour was motivated solely to return unwanted things and buy replacements.
19. As a result the original panel concluded that the Registrant had been dishonest and that this amounted to misconduct. The original panel carefully considered impairment and reached the conclusion although the behaviour had not been repeated and the Registrant had continued to work as a Biomedical Scientist she was non the less impaired as she had not fully developed her insight into the reasons for her conduct.
20. The original panel considered that there remained a risk that the Registrant would repeat matters of the kind found proved and therefore made a finding of impairment on the personal component.
21. The original panel also made a finding of impairment on the public interest grounds following consideration of the legitimate public expectation that that honesty and integrity is a cornerstone of the profession.
22. Having identified the aggravating and mitigating factors that could be applied to the Registrant’s conduct the original panel then imposed a Suspension Order of 12 months.

Submissions
23. Ms Khorassani, on behalf of the HCPC, invited the Panel to extend the current Suspension Order for a further 12 months. She reminded the Panel that its role was to conduct a review to decide whether the Registrant’s fitness to practice remains impaired and if so, to determine the appropriate sanction. Ms Khorassani reminded the Panel of its powers under Article 30(1) of the Health Professions Order 2001. She invited the Panel to consider the following factors:
a. there has been no material chance in the circumstances of the Registrant;
b. there has been no meaningful engagement from the Registrant since the substantive hearing;
c. she has not shown any additional insight into her shortcomings.
24. She submitted that these demonstrated that the Registrant was still impaired on both the personal and public components. She submitted that a Conditions of Practice Order was unsuitable as there were no workable conditions. In particular as the Registrant has indicated that she has left the profession this would not be appropriate.
25. She indicated that it remained open to the Panel to Strike Off the Registrant but in the circumstances and particularly those that related to her ill health it remained appropriate to give the Registrant an additional opportunity to demonstrate to a future panel that she had the necessary insight to continue to work as a Biomedical Scientist.
26. Therefore, Ms Khorassani invited the Panel to extend the current Suspension Order for 12 months to allow the Registrant an opportunity to engage with the HCPC process to show that her fitness is no longer impaired.

Decision
27. The Legal Assessor reminded the Panel that its purpose today is to conduct a comprehensive appraisal of the Registrant to determine whether she is fit to return to unrestricted practice. Its role is not to conduct a rehearing of the allegation nor is it to go behind the previous findings. She advised that in carrying out this assessment, the Panel must exercise its own independent judgment.
28. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel had regard to the HCPTS Practice Note on “Review of Article 30 Orders” and to the Sanctions Policy.
29. The Panel bore in mind the principles of fairness and proportionality and had regard to the Sanctions Policy document issued by the HCPC. The Panel was also aware that any order that it makes under Article 30 should not be punitive in purpose, and that it should be the least restrictive order that would suffice to protect the public and/or is otherwise in the public interest.
30. In reaching its decision today the Panel considered all the information before it. The Panel first considered whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired. The Panel was also aware that the persuasive burden is upon the Registrant to demonstrate that her fitness to practise is no longer impaired. The Panel had regard to the decision of the substantive panel, however, it comprehensively reviewed the matter and exercised its own judgment in reaching its decision.
31. The Panel noted that whilst evidence had been submitted on the last occasion to demonstrate insight the previous panel had found the “Registrant had not fully developed her insight into the reasons for her conduct.” The Registrant had chosen not to provide any updating evidence to the Panel today, despite a clear indication as to what would be of assistance in demonstrating insight and remediation. Therefore the Panel had no evidence from which it could conclude that there had been further reflections or progress made by the Registrant in remediating her conduct. The Panel noted that it had no medical evidence before it today that might assist with the paucity of evidence identified by the previous panel at paragraph 60 of its determination.
32. The Panel has reminded itself that remediation of misconduct comprising of dishonesty is more difficult than misconduct in relation to clinical failings. The Panel noted that the original panel expressed the view that “with the development of meaningful insight, dishonesty of this kind is remediable”. The Panel also noted that with regard to the difficulties the Registrant had at the time when she was “unwell and unable to think clearly” the original panel had found that the Registrant had “taken some limited steps to appreciate the effect of these circumstances by accessing counselling”.
33. The Panel did not go behind the finding that “the Registrant had not been open and honest either with herself or the Panel about the nature and extent of the dishonesty.”
34. Due to the lack of any progress demonstrated by the Registrant in relation to her insight into the reasons for her actions or the seriousness of her conduct the Panel found that there remained a risk that the Registrant may repeat the kind of behaviour that had been found proved. Therefore, the Panel concluded that the Registrant is impaired on the personal ground.
35. The Panel gave consideration as to whether the Registrant remained impaired on the public interest component. This was misconduct involving dishonesty and the Panel considered that the public would be concerned to learn of the Registrant’s conduct in this matter. The Panel concluded that as honesty is a cornerstone of the profession the regulatory aims of maintaining confidence in both the profession and the regulator and declaring and upholding proper standards would be undermined if it failed to find that the Registrant remained impaired on the public interest ground.
36. The Panel had regard to the Sanctions Policy (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.
37. The Panel took account of the careful analysis of the aggravating and mitigating factors that had been set out by the previous panel. The Panel had no additional information before it today and did not seek to go behind those findings.
38. The Panel rejected the options of taking no further action, mediation or a Caution Order as being inappropriate given the seriousness of the allegations and the risk of repetition that had been identified at the substantive hearing. The Panel rejected a Conditions of Practice Order as no workable conditions had been proposed to it today.
39. The Panel considered whether a Suspension Order should be imposed and to sense check its decision in light of the Registrant’s request to be removed from the Register also looked at whether a striking off order would be appropriate. The Panel noted that a striking off order can be appropriate in circumstances where there has been dishonesty but also where the Registrant lacks insight and is unwilling to resolve matters. The Panel compared this with the Suspension Order guidance which suggests it may be appropriate where the issues are unlikely to be repeated, there is evidence that the Registrant is likely to be able to remedy their failings and the Registrant had insight.
40. The Panel found the factors to be finely balanced but determined that a Suspension Order was appropriate due to the clear potential for remediation, the lack of repetition of any dishonesty, the lack of any issues regarding the Registrant’s professional behaviour and the gap in the medical evidence before it.
41. The Panel considered that the length of the Suspension Order should be for 6 months. This period is sufficient to focus the Registrant’s mind as to whether she would wish to return to a role she has dedicated time and effort into obtaining and maintaining her professional qualifications. It would also allow her sufficient time to demonstrate to the next Panel that she has reflected on her actions and developed insight into them.
42. The Panel again considers that a future panel may be assisted by the following:
a) any information which evidences a developed level of insight, including an appreciation and understanding of the nature and extent of the dishonesty and a fuller appreciation of the reasons behind it;
b) independent evidence from the Registrant’s GP, counsellor, Psychiatrist or any other treating clinician about the progress she has made and steps she has taken to manage her mental health; and,
c) the Registrant demonstrating her understanding of the impact her mental health had on her conduct and how she would avoid any repetition of her dishonesty in the future.

Order

ORDER: The Registrar is directed to suspend the Registrant from the Register for a period of 6 months from the date this order comes into effect.

Notes

The Order imposed today will apply from 13 October 2022.
This Order will be reviewed again before its expiry on 13 April 2023.

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Mrs Maureen Bennie

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
14/09/2022 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing Suspended
13/09/2021 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended
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