Gemma Williamson

: Social worker

: SW23778

: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing:10:00 01/12/2014 End: 17:00 03/12/2014

: Health and Care Professions Council, Park House, 184 Kennington Park Road, London, SE11 4BU

: Conduct and Competence Committee
: Caution

Allegation

(As amended)
Whilst registered as a Social Worker you:
1. Applied for a position at Sunderland Social Services, where you:
a) Provided misleading information to an employment agency who prepared and submitted a curriculum vitae on your behalf which stated that you were on a career break between August and October 2013 when you in fact were working at South Tyneside Council from approximately 30 August to 7 October 2013;
b) misled Sunderland Social Services as to the fact of your employment with South Tyneside Council.
2. Your actions at paragraphs 1a and 1b were dishonest.
3. The matters described in paragraphs 1 – 2 constitute misconduct.
4. By reason of that misconduct your fitness to practise is impaired. 

Finding

Preliminary Matters:
1. The Panel found that there had been good service of the notice of these proceedings, in accordance with Rule 3 of the Health and Care Professions Council (Conduct and Competence Committee) (Procedure) Rules 2003 by notice dated 9 September 2014 sent to the registered address of Gemma Williamson (the Registrant).
2. The Panel next considered whether to proceed with the hearing in the absence of the Registrant, in accordance with rule 11 of the Health and Care Professions Council (Conduct and Competence Committee) (Procedure) Rules 2003. The Panel was advised by the Legal Assessor, including that it should consider the guidance in the HCPC Practice Note entitled “Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant” (August 2012), and followed that advice. An email dated 5 September 2014 from the Registrant states that she will not be attending the final hearing “due to financial reasons”. The Panel decided to proceed in the absence of the Registrant, on the grounds that:
(a) she has not engaged with the HCPC since 5 September 2014;
(b) the HCPC has notified her of the hearing and of her right to provide evidence;
(c) she has not responded to the notice of hearing dated 9 September 2014 not the pre-hearing proforma sent by Kingsley Napley Solicitors;
(d) her email of 5 September does not explain the “financial reasons” referred to;
(e) the Panel has seen her detailed written responses received on 22 April 2014 and 21 May 2014;
(f) there has been no request for an adjournment of the hearing and there is nothing before the Panel to suggest she would attend a rescheduled hearing;
(g) there was no response to a telephone message left for her by the Hearings Officer on 01 December 2014;
(h) she has waived her right to attend the hearing;
(i) a fair hearing can take place in her absence;
(j) it is in the public interest for regulatory hearings to proceed expeditiously.
3. The Panel permitted minor amendments of the particulars to be made (as indicated above); under the general power to allow amendments where there is no prejudice to the Registrant. Notice of the proposed amendments was sent to her by letter dated 8 October 2014 and no objection was raised by the Registrant. The amendments serve to clarify the HCPC’s case, in accordance with the witness evidence.
4. The Panel adopted the civil standard of proof, namely the balance of probability, in relation to all factual particulars. The burden of proof is upon the HCPC to prove particulars 1a, 1b and 2.
5. The Panel applied the following two stage test in respect of the alleged dishonesty in particular 2:
i. Were the Registrant’s actions dishonest by the standards of ordinary reasonable people?
ii. If they were, would the Registrant have realised that her actions were dishonest by those standards?
Background:
6. The Panel heard oral evidence from two HCPC witnesses: HF (formerly Service Manager at South Tyneside Council) and RP (Operational Manager at Sunderland City Council) and considered the statements of SO (Area Manager at 4SocialWork Recruitment Agency) and JL (Legal Assistant at Kingsley Napley). The Panel also considered written evidence provided by the Registrant and the HCPC.
7. The HCPC relied upon the witness statement of SO (dated 2 September 2014) as hearsay evidence, in accordance with Article 32(2)(m) of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001.
8. The Panel considered what weight (if any) to attach to the witness statement of SO, taking into account, in particular, the following factors:
i. the statement of SO is the key evidence in support of particular 1a;
ii. the Registrant has challenged the crucial parts of his statement;
iii. there is no suggestion that SO had a reason to fabricate his evidence;
iv. these allegations if correct may have a serious impact on the Registrant’s career;
v. there is no good reason for the non-attendance at the hearing by SO;
vi. HCPC has taken reasonable steps to secure SO’s attendance by issuing a witness summons which he has refused to comply with, thereby committing a criminal offence.
9. The Registrant was employed as a Social Worker by the following authorities:
(a) Middlesbrough City Council (MCC) from 2002 to 2013.
(b) Durham County Council (DCC) from January to August 2013 via recruitment agency.
(c) South Tyneside Council (STC) from 30 August to 7 October 2013 via recruitment agency.
(d) Gateshead County Council from January to March 2014.
(e) Hull County Council from March 2014.
10. The Registrant’s contract with STC was terminated on 7 October 2013. A referral was made to the HCPC following a meeting convened by STC to consider this. One of the matters discussed at the meeting was the omission from the Registrant’s Curriculum Vitae (CV) of her period of employment with STC.
11. The Registrant’s responses to the HCPC’s (un-amended) allegations were received on 22 April and 21 May 2014 and considered by an Investigating Committee of the HCPC on 10 June 2014. The Registrant also sent information by email on 5 September 2014. She states that a copy of her CV was sent to Sunderland City Council (SCC) by SO which he had downloaded from a website and he failed to send her up to date CV (which she had supplied to him) to SCC.
12. The Registrant was interviewed by SCC in October 2013, in relation to a vacancy for an Agency Social Worker, to work in a child protection role. At the interview with SCC conducted by RP, the Registrant says she explained that SCC had not received her current CV and her last place of employment was STC. The Registrant says she subsequently instructed SO to contact SCC and explain the reasons why her employment at STC had been terminated. She denies being dishonest and says she disclosed the reasons for leaving STC and provided an updated CV to SO, to forward to SCC on her behalf. The Registrant did not work as a social worker from October 2013 to January 2014.
13. The HCPC submits that the Registrant’s CV created a false impression of a career break from August to October 2013. This was maintained by the Registrant in her interview with SCC when she failed to mention her employment at STC and misled RP who was interviewing her on behalf of SCC.
Decision on Facts:
As to particular 1a
14. The Registrant says in her statement, received on 22 April 2014, that the CV the recruitment agency originally had was out of date. She says that she then sent an updated CV to the agency, but she does not state in what way it was updated.
15. SO’s witness statement, says that: he asked the Registrant, on 10 October 2013, to send him an updated version of her CV. She said her laptop was broken and so he took the relevant details over the telephone. He states that he wrote down the details as she spoke. He has provided, in support of his statement, a record which appears to be a contemporaneous record of his communications with the Registrant, and states “CV done 10 October 2013”. A copy of the CV he says he drafted for her states under ‘Employment History’ that the Registrant had a career break between August 2013 – October 2013.
16. SO states in his statement that the Registrant told him that her most recent previous employer at that time was Durham Council. According to SO: “She did not tell me about South Tyneside”.
17. SO also states that he sent the CV he had drafted to the Registrant on 14 October 2013. This is supported by the contact log he has provided. SO states that the Registrant amended and returned this CV the same day and he has produced a copy of the amended CV. Both CV’s are included in the HCPC bundle of evidence. The amended CV still shows a career break between August 2013 – October 2013. SO states “Gemma Williamson only added some bullet points to the CV”.
18. The Panel has not had the opportunity to ask questions of SO or to test his evidence.
19. The Panel is of the view that SO has no reason to give misleading evidence. His evidence in his statement is supported by contemporaneous documentary evidence.
20. The CV provided by the Registrant to SO was sent by him to SCC. RP from SCC confirms that this CV states that the Registrant was on a career break from August 2013 – October 2013.
21. The Registrant has alleged that she updated her CV but she has not specifically stated that she corrected the period August – October 2013.
22. The HCPC obtained a witness summons requiring the attendance of SO, but he has refused to attend.
23. The Panel is of the view that SO’s witness statement is credible and is confirmed as being correct by contemporaneous documents. The Panel concludes his evidence is likely to be true and the Panel finds that particular 1a is proved.
As to particular 1b
24. The Registrant states in her written statement received 22 April 2014 “I attended the interview for Sunderland and during the interview I explained they had received my old CV and that my last place of employment had been South Tyneside.”
25. She further states in her email to the HCPC of 21 May 2014 that she “did inform Sunderland during interview that they had an old CV and that my last place of employment was South Tyneside”.
26. RP stated in her written statement that, in interview, the Registrant stated she had worked at DCC and subsequently had a career break. She further confirmed in her evidence “at no time in interviews did Gemma say she had worked at South Tyneside”.
27. RP also confirmed the Registrant’s CV did not mention STC. After the interview, RP states she approached DCC for a reference as the last employer. She telephoned DCC and was told by them that the Registrants last employer was STC. SO recorded on 17 October 2013 “Sunderland want her on condition of Durham ref”.
28. The Panel is of the view that RP is a credible witness. The Panel accepts her evidence that she did not know, and was not told, that the Registrant had worked at STC and the Panel finds that particular 1b is proved.
As to particular 2
29. The Panel finds that the Registrant was dishonest by the standards of reasonable people in her actions in both 1a and 1b and that she would have known that what she did was dishonest by these standards.
30. The Panel noted that the Registrant gave incorrect information to SO about her work during August – October 2013. She then updated her CV and did not correct this information. She was then dishonest again in her interview at SCC.
31. The Panel was of the view that her actions were deliberate and designed to conceal the fact of her employment at STC.
32. Particular 2 is therefore proved.
Decision on Grounds:
33. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. Misconduct is a word of general effect, involving some act or omission which falls short of what would be proper in the circumstances. The standard of propriety may often be found by reference to the rules and standards ordinarily required to be followed by a practitioner in the particular circumstances.
34. Under the HCPC standards of conduct, performance and ethics, Registrants are required to comply with the following standard: 13 you must behave with honesty and integrity and make sure that your behaviour does not damage the public’s confidence in you or your profession. Under the HCPC standards of proficiency for social workers in England, Registrants are required to comply with the following standard: 3.1 Registrant social workers must…understand the need to maintain high standards of personal and professional conduct.
35. The Panel finds that the Registrant failed to comply with standards 13 and 3.1 above. The Panel is satisfied that particulars 1a, 1b and 2 constitute misconduct because it is very important for a social worker to be open and honest when applying for work. The Registrant deliberately misled a recruitment agency and a potential employer. Checks on previous employment are carried out to ensure that social workers are suitable to work with vulnerable service users. Her behaviour was in breach of the above standards and fell far short of what might be expected of her in the circumstances. The Panel concludes that the allegation of misconduct, arising from the proved factual particulars 1a, 1b and 2 is well founded.
Decision on Impairment:
36. The Panel considered the HCPC Practice Note on Finding that Fitness to Practice is Impaired. The Panel heard accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. In determining whether fitness to practise is impaired, Panels must take account of a range of issues which, in essence, comprise two components:
i. the ‘personal’ component: the current competence, behaviour etc. of the individual registrant; and
ii. the ‘public’ component: the need to protect service users, declare and uphold proper standards of behaviour and maintain public confidence in the profession.
37. Rule 9 of the Health and Care Professions Council (Conduct and Competence Committee) (Procedure) Rules 2003 states: Where the Committee has found that the health professional has failed to comply with the HCPC standards of conduct, performance and ethics the Committee may take that failure into account, but such failure shall not be taken of itself to establish that the fitness to practise of the health professional is impaired.
38. The Registrant states in her written submissions of 22 April 2013 and 21 May 2013 that she was not dishonest. She has provided a copy of a CV which mentions her employment at STC between September and October 2013. However, she has maintained in both her written submissions that she informed SCC in interview of her employment with STC.
39. The Panel noted that these submissions were made to the Investigating Committee Panel and the allegation at that point was that she misled SCC about the nature of her contract termination with STC. However, she was informed by letter dated 08 October 2014 of the HCPC’s intention to apply to amend the allegation and has not responded to it.
40. The Panel are of the view that, because the Registrant has shown no recognition of her misconduct, she has not demonstrated insight.
41. The Registrant has explained her personal circumstances and the reasons behind her leaving her employment at STC, and the Panel accept that at the time she was experiencing a very difficult period in her personal life. However this is not an excuse for her continuing dishonesty. According to the CV provided by the Registrant in May, she has worked as a social worker since the events at STC. However, she has provided no employer references or character testimonials. The Panel are of the view that it may be possible for the Registrant to demonstrate that she has remedied her misconduct. However, she has provided no evidence of any remediation, and the Panel cannot be reassured that the misconduct will not be repeated.
42. There is no evidence of any harm being caused to service users by the Registrant’s dishonesty. However, the Panel is of the view that not to make a finding of current impairment would damage the public confidence in the profession of social work and the HCPC as regulator. The Panel is also aware of its important role in declaring and upholding proper standards. Attempting to subvert proper employment processes and checks is not the behaviour expected of a social worker.

Decision on Sanction:
43. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The purpose of fitness to practise proceedings is not to punish registrants, but to protect the public. The Panel has considered the HCPC Indicative Sanctions Policy (October 2014) which states: “It is important for Panels to remember that a sanction may only be imposed in relation to the facts which a Panel has found to be true or which are admitted by the registrant. Equally, it is important that any sanction addresses all of the relevant facts which have led to a finding of impairment.”
44. The wider public interest includes the need to uphold the reputation of the profession and maintain public confidence in the HCPC regulatory process. In deciding what, if any, sanction to impose under Article 29 of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001, the Panel had regard to the principle of proportionality and the need to balance the interests of the public with those of the Registrant.
45. The Panel has heard submissions from Mrs Higgins in relation to mitigating and aggravating factors before considering (in ascending order) what, if any, sanction to impose. The Registrant has explained her personal circumstances and the reasons behind her leaving her employment at STC, and the Panel accept that at the time she was experiencing a very difficult period in her personal life. There is no evidence of any harm being caused to service users by the Registrant’s dishonesty and this matter arises from an isolated but serious piece of dishonest behaviour. Finally, she initially engaged in the HCPC process but has not done so since 5 September 2014.
46. The Panel decided that it was necessary to impose a sanction due to the dishonesty and lack of insight involved in this case.
47. The Panel decided that mediation is not appropriate in this case.
48. A caution order must be for a specified period of between one year and five years. Cautions appear on the register but do not restrict a registrant’s ability to practise. However, a caution may be taken into account if a further allegation is made against the Registrant concerned.
49. The Policy states that a caution order may be the appropriate sanction for cases of dishonesty, if there is a low risk of recurrence and therefore suspension would be disproportionate.  
50. The Panel finds a caution order is appropriate in this case because these proceedings arise from an isolated episode of dishonesty, in October 2013. This is the least restrictive means of protecting the public and marks the disapproval of the Panel and the wider public for her behaviour but acknowledges the change in her circumstances since October 2013. The Panel finds that the Registrant has reflected to some extent on the circumstances leading to the misconduct. She described very difficult personal circumstances at the time which she says have since changed. The Registrant in her email of 21 May 2014 stated that she has since informed professionals that her contract ended at STC for personal reasons. She attached what she described as an up to date CV which includes her employment at STC.
51. The Panel concludes that a Caution order for two years is the appropriate and proportionate sanction in this case.
52. The Panel did consider whether a conditions of practise order was more appropriate, but decided that no workable or realistic conditions could be framed to address the issue of dishonesty and there is no information from the Registrant to confirm her current employment. There are no public protection issues requiring a restriction upon her practice. 

 

Order

That the Registrar is directed to annotate the register entry of Miss Gemma Williamson with a caution which is to remain on the register for a period of two years from the date this order comes into effect.

Notes

No notes available

Hearing history

History of Hearings for Gemma Williamson

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
13/12/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing Suspended
15/12/2016 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing Suspended
23/12/2015 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended
01/12/2014 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Caution