Ms Evelyn V Bliss
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As a registered Psychologist (PYL28302) your fitness to practise is impaired by reason of misconduct. In that:
- Between approximately 2012 and 2013 you did not maintain appropriate professional boundaries with Person A, and/or you engaged in unprofessional conversation via SMS Text Messages as set out in Schedule A.
- Between approximately 2017 and 2019 the content of your email and/or written correspondence to Person A was unprofessional and/or crossed professional boundaries as set out in Schedule B.
- On or around 04 March 2013, your conduct was unprofessional when you attended Person A’s home and you abruptly left without returning despite Person A’s attempts to make a safeguarding disclosure to you, and
- You said to Person A in a Social Media text that you sent afterwards, “You told me to go so I went”
- On or around 06 March 2013, when Person A made disclosures of physical and/or emotional abuse by her adoptive parents, you delayed making the safeguarding referral dated 13 March until 20 March 2013, relating to.
- Person A
- Child 1
- Child 2
- Between March 2018 and October 2018 when Person A was no longer your patient you inappropriately supported Person A’s contact with Person B despite Person B having convictions for downloading and accessing indecent images of children, and/or ;
- You did not ensure that action was taken and/or an appropriate safeguarding alert raised to Social Services about the potential safeguarding risk Person B posed to Person A and Child 1, 2 and 3.
- On 15 March 2015, you acted outside the scope of your practice when you wrote a letter to Person A supporting Child 1 attending a residential school despite having never been formally involved with Child 1 and/or carrying out any formal assessment of Child 1.
- On 18 February 2018, in a letter to the Criminal Injury Compensation Authority [CICA] you gave a ‘clinical opinion’ that Child 1 suffered from ADHD and Autism despite not having formally assessed Child 1.
- The matters set out in allegations 1-7 and above constitute misconduct.
- By reason of your misconduct your fitness to practise is impaired.
1. The Panel finds there has been good service of the notice of today’s hearing dated 11 January 2024 sent to the Registrant’s registered address by email. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant has received the notice of hearing and the Rules of service were complied with. The notice of hearing informed the Registrant that a review of the current Order would take place today by video conference.
2. The Registrant has sent emails to the HCPC stating that she will not be attending the hearing today due to ill health. She states she has retired and wishes to be removed from the HCPC register and: “A voluntary removal will be fine”.
Proceeding in the absence of the Registrant
3. The HCPC invited the Panel to proceed in the absence of the Registrant under Rule 11 of the Procedure Rules and to take into account the HCPTS Practice Note on Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant. The HCPC submits that it is in the public interest for this statutory review hearing to proceed. The Panel must balance the overriding interest of public protection with fairness to the Registrant.
4. The Panel has considered the HCPTS Practice Note, and taken the Legal Assessor’s advice. There is a burden on a Registrant to engage with their regulator and the Registrant is aware of the hearing today. There is a statutory requirement for the current Order to be reviewed before it expires.
5. The Registrant has stated on 10 and 13 February 2024 that she will not be attending the hearing today due to ill health. She has retired and wishes to be removed from the HCPC register. She has voluntarily chosen not to attend today’s hearing and it is not likely that the Registrant would participate in these proceedings on a future date, if this hearing is adjourned. There has been no request for an adjournment and it is appropriate to proceed in the absence of the Registrant.
Hearing in Private
6. The HCPC submits that this hearing should be held entirely in private, under Rule 10 of the Procedure Rules 2003, which states: …the proceeding shall be held in public unless the Committee is satisfied that, in the interests of justice or for the protection of the private life of the health professional, the complainant, any person giving evidence, or of any patient or client, the public should be excluded from all or part of the hearing.
7. The concerns raised in this hearing are inextricably linked to the matters before the previous panel at the substantive hearing. At the previous hearing it was accepted that the entire hearing should be in private, taking into account the Order of the Family Court dated 22 January 2021 and to protect the private life of Person A.
8. The Panel today finds there is a necessity for the entire hearing to be held in private, taking into account the Order of the Family Court dated 22 January 2021 and to protect the private life of Person A.
The Final Hearing panel’s decision
9. The Final Hearing panel considered a 903-page bundle which included a skeleton argument prepared on behalf of the HCPC and a reflective piece prepared by the Registrant. Mr Olphert on behalf of the HCPC invited the panel to dispose of the matter by way of a Consent Order and to impose a 9-month Suspension Order, on the basis that the Registrant accepts that her fitness to practise is impaired by reason of her misconduct.
10. Mr Olphert submitted that the Registrant had demonstrated insight by fully reflecting on her previous failings and by giving detailed information about the personal and professional circumstances that led to the allegations. He submitted that the Registrant has expressed remorse and understanding of the importance of maintaining professional boundaries within her job. She has also shown significant insight into her actions and has provided within her reflective piece an action plan for her future practice as a Registered Psychologist. On that basis he submitted there is a low risk of the Registrant repeating her misconduct.
11. Mr Olphert submitted that the public interest is sufficiently protected by the Registrant being suspended from practising as a psychologist for a period of 9 months and that such an Order is not detrimental to the wider public interest.
12. Therefore, the panel was invited to accept the view that the sanction agreed between the parties is a proportionate way to dispose of these matters.
13. Mr Somerville, on behalf of the Registrant, fully endorsed the submissions made by Mr Olphert and commended the consensual disposal to the panel.
14. The panel was referred to the HCPTS’s Practice Note on Disposal of Cases by Consent. The Legal Assessor reminded the panel that the Practice Note makes clear that the HCPC’s overarching statutory objective is the protection of the public. With that in mind, a panel should not agree to a case being resolved by consent unless it is satisfied that firstly, the appropriate level of public protection is being secured; and secondly, doing so would not be detrimental to the wider public interest. A disposal by consent does not affect the powers of the panel or the range of sanctions available. It is merely a process by which the HCPC and the Registrant may propose an appropriate outcome. The panel still had the option of rejecting the proposal for disposal by consent.
15. Before considering the proposal, the panel should satisfy itself that the HCPC:
a. has provided a clear, appropriately detailed and objectively justified explanation within its supporting skeleton argument of why the matter is suitable for disposal by consent on the terms set out in the draft Consent Order; and,
b. has made clear to the registrant concerned that co-operation and participation in the consent process will not automatically lead to a Consent Order being approved.
16. The panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor that the task before it was to determine whether to conclude the case upon the terms of the draft Consent Order, or reject that proposal and set the case down for a full hearing. The Registrant had signed the Consensual Disposal Request Pro-Forma on 7 July 2022 confirming that:
a. she admits the facts of the allegation;
b. she admits that her fitness to practise is impaired by reason of her misconduct;
c. that she has read the HCPTS Practice Note on “Disposal of Cases by Consent”; and
d. that she agrees to a Suspension.
17. The panel considered the evidence, including: a statement that during the Family Proceedings it was agreed that there should be a referral to the HCPC and the redacted Judgment dated 6 December 2019. The panel considered the Registrant’s admissions to the facts alleged and concluded that the allegations were supported by the evidence provided. The panel decided that there was sufficient evidence to conclude that the facts amounted to misconduct and that the Registrant’s fitness to practise was currently impaired.
18. The panel had regard to the HCPC Sanctions Policy including paragraph 121 which states: “a suspension order is likely to be appropriate where there are serious concerns which cannot be reasonably addressed by a conditions of practice order, but which do not require the registrant to be struck off the Register.” This guidance notes that the types of cases where suspension is appropriate will typically exhibit the following factors:
1.1 the concerns represent a serious breach of the Standards of conduct, performance and ethics;
1.2 the registrant has insight
1.3 The issues are unlikely to be repeated; and
1.4 There is evidence to suggest the registrant is likely to be a able to resolve or remedy their failings.
19. The Registrant’s misconduct was a serious breach of the behaviour expected of her by her regulatory body. Her conduct attracted criticism during Family Court Proceedings in which she gave evidence and was aggravated by the fact that Person A was clearly vulnerable.
20. The Registrant had reflected on each of the allegations. The panel noted that this was one of the most considered and comprehensive reflective pieces that it had come across. Within in it the Registrant accepted that she had crossed professional boundaries and that her fitness to practise was impaired. The Registrant had taken on board the full extent of the allegations against her and accepted that texting blurred the boundaries of her professional relationship with Person A. The Registrant has since stopped corresponding with service users by text. The panel accepted that the Registrant had identified what had been wrong with her practice and was reassured that it would not happen again. The majority of the allegations related to 2012 and 2013 and one Service User had been involved. There had been no other issues with the Registrant’s practice.
21. The panel had regard to the undoubtedly serious nature of the misconduct but recognised the level of insight that the Registrant has shown. The panel agreed with the HCPC submission that the issues are unlikely to be repeated due to the changes that the Registrant has described and implemented to her practice.
22. The panel accepted that the proposal for consensual disposal was reached as a result of proper and well considered discussions between the parties. The explanation that had been articulated on behalf of the HCPC was well reasoned and justified. The panel agreed that a period of suspension would properly protect the public and that 9 months suspension was a decision that could be reached by a panel at a substantive hearing.
23. The panel did not consider a more onerous sanction was necessary or proportionate and to dispose of the case by way of consent, would not be detrimental to the wider public interest. The wider public interest was sufficiently protected by a Suspension Order of 9 months which was sufficient to uphold proper professional standards. Accordingly, the panel agreed with the proposed Consent Order.
24. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel has to make an assessment of the Registrant’s fitness to practise as at today’s date. The Panel has taken into account the HCPTS Practice Note on Finding that Fitness to Practise is Impaired, which emphasises that the fitness to practise process is about public protection. A Panel must take into account the personal component, which includes the current competence and behaviour of the Registrant, and the public component, which includes protecting service users, declaring and upholding proper standards of behaviour and maintaining public confidence in the profession.
25. This review process requires a Registrant to demonstrate both developed insight and remediation before returning to unrestricted practice. There is a persuasive burden on the Registrant to demonstrate that she is safe to return to practice. The Panel has to make an assessment of the Registrant’s fitness to practise as at today’s date. The Panel took into consideration all the documentation before it, and the submissions made. The Panel finds that there has been no change in the Registrant’s circumstances since the final hearing. Her fitness to practise is still impaired under the personal and public components. The Registrant has not provided any evidence of insight or remediation since the last hearing which would persuade the Panel that her fitness to practise is no longer impaired.
26. The Panel considered whether to take no action or impose a Caution Order and took into consideration the guidance within the Sanctions Policy as to when such an order was appropriate. The Panel concluded that such an order would not be sufficient to protect the public, nor would it be in the public interest given the Registrant’s misconduct.
27. The Panel next considered whether to impose a Conditions of Practice Order and concluded that such a measure would neither be appropriate nor workable given that there must be a willingness to comply with conditions and the Registrant has retired from practice.
28. The Panel considered a further Suspension Order. The Registrant has shown insight and her misconduct is unlikely to be repeated. She has retired due to ill health but could decide to return to practice. A further suspension will give her the opportunity to reflect and provide evidence if she wishes to return to practice or to pursue the option of voluntary removal from the HCPC register. The latter option will have to be considered by the HCPC and if approved would then have to be put before another panel.
29. The Panel was advised to consider imposing the least restrictive Order today consistent with the public interest and fairness to the Registrant. The Panel took into account that the Registrant engaged and cooperated with the substantive hearing and had provided a detailed reflection. She has responded to the notice of hearing for today by stating that she has retired and “a voluntary removal will be fine”. A Striking-off Order would be excessive today as this is a sanction of last resort under the HCPC Sanctions Policy.
30. In these circumstances, the Panel has concluded that a further period of suspension for 6 months is appropriate and proportionate to protect the public and enable the option of a voluntary removal to be considered further by the Registrant and the HCPC.
31. The Panel is satisfied that a Suspension Order of 6 months will give the Registrant sufficient opportunity if she wishes to pursue her request for a voluntary removal from the HCPC register.
32. The reviewing panel is likely to be assisted by written confirmation if the Registrant wishes to continue her career as a practitioner psychologist, notwithstanding her current circumstances, plus evidence of relevant Continuing Professional Development and testimonials.
33. If no further steps are taken by the Registrant to engage with the HCPC, a Striking-off Order may be imposed at the next Review hearing.
The Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Mrs Evelyn V Bliss for a further period of 6 months on the expiry of the existing Order.
The order imposed today will apply from 22 March 2024.
This order will be reviewed again before its expiry on 22 September 2024.
An appeal may be made to the High Court in England and Wales against the Panel’s decision and the order it has made against you. Any appeal must be made to the court not more than 28 days after the date when this notice is served.
History of Hearings for Ms Evelyn V Bliss
|Outcomes / Status
|Conduct and Competence Committee
|Conduct and Competence Committee
|Consent Order Hearing