Martin Joseph Sands
(as amended at the Final Hearing)
While employed as a Social Worker with Sefton Metropolitan Borough Council, you:
1. Did not visit the following Children In Need between the following dates:
a) Service User B between 17 July 2012 and around 15 May 2013;
b) Service User A between 5 October 2012 and around 15 May 2013;
c) Service User C between 7 September 2012 and or around 15 May 2013;
d) Service User D between 8 September 2012 and around 15 May 2013.
2. Did not carry out risk assessments in relation to Service User B between 25 June 2012 and around 15 May 2013
3. Between February 2012 and May 2013 did not respond to child protection and/or child welfare concerns in that, you did not carry out home visits in respect of:
a) Family B on 3 occasions;
b) Family C on 7 occasions;
c) Family A on 2 occasions; and
d) Family D on 3 occasions;
4. On or around 21 January 2013 in relation to Family A, did not talk to a Service User about an allegation that his father had slapped him.
5. On or around 17 April 2013 in relation to Family A, did not seek an explanation as to the cause of three bruises on a Service User's chin.
6. Did not make a referral for Service User D, who told you she was self-harming.
7. Deliberately recorded false information on the HCPC's electronic system in that you:
a. input a CIN plan onto the system when in fact a CIN meeting had not taken place:
i. on or around 13 May 2013 in respect to Family C;
ii. on or around 14 May 2013 in respect to Family A.
b. on or around 29 October 2012, recorded notes of a visit to Service User E but that visit did not take place.
8. Did not make a statutory visit to Service User E within the required timescale of 28 days.
9. Your actions set out in paragraph 7 and 8 constitute dishonesty.
10. The matters described in paragraphs 7 and 9 constitute misconduct.
11. The matters described in paragraphs 1 - 6 and 8 constitute misconduct and/or a lack of competence.
12. By reason of that misconduct and/or lack of competence your fitness to practise is impaired.
Notice of Hearing
1. The Panel had evidence that Notice of today’s hearing had been sent in the correct form, by the appropriate postal means, to the address shown for the Registrant on the HCPC’s register, and in sufficient time in advance of the hearing. The Panel had evidence of due posting by way of a signed certificate. In addition, Notice had been sent by email to the Registrant at the email address notified by the Registrant to the HCPC. The Panel therefore came to the conclusion that Notice had been served within the requirements of the Health and Care Professions Council (Conduct and Competence Committee) (Procedure) Rules 2003 (the Rules) and that the HCPC had used all reasonable means to bring this hearing to the Registrant’s attention.
Proceeding in absence
2. The Panel had before it an email from the Registrant dated 27 April 2015 in which he indicates that he will not be attending the hearing. This email was in response to an email from Kingsley Napley Solicitors dated 22 April 2015 in which the dates of the hearing are included.
3. The HCPC made an application for this matter to proceed in the Registrant’s absence. The HCPC stated that it had given sufficient Notice; it had a witness who was in attendance and ready and willing to give evidence. In addition, the Registrant had not made an application for an adjournment and there was no information from the Registrant indicating whether he is willing to attend at a future date.
4. The HCPC maintained that there was public interest in this matter proceeding without delay and that there was no disadvantage to the Registrant as he had made representations on which he was prepared to rely in his absence.
5. The Panel accepted the submissions made by the HCPC and the Legal Assessor’s advice in reaching its decision that it would proceed in the Registrant’s absence. The Panel accepted that in addition, these matters relate to issues which took place some time ago and there is nothing to indicate that there should be any further delay in the expeditious conclusion of this matter. The Panel considered that there was sufficient evidence that the Registrant had made an informed decision not to attend, had not made an application for an adjournment and therefore had voluntarily absented himself.
Amendment of the allegation
6. At the beginning of the hearing, the HCPC applied for the allegation as notified to the Registrant, to be amended.
7. First, to ensure service user and family anonymity, the initials within the allegation were to be substituted with alphabetically different reference letters.
8. Secondly, to ensure accuracy between the allegation and the evidence before the Panel, the following amendments were proposed:
• Particular 1 – the amendments were to make the dates relate directly to each service user. This change does not widen the nature and is for better clarity.
• Particular 3 – the changes to the stem are to record the fact that the evidence disclosed to parts of the failure to act appropriately. First, the failure to undertake the visit and, secondly, to record the fact of the visit.
• Particular 3(e) – this is the addition of another family to this limb, a family which had previously been incorporated within particular 6 (now deleted). However, this particular gave further detail.
• Particular 4 – this amendment relates to the failure to record a conversation that should have taken place. This change reflects the fact that, without the Service User giving evidence, it is evidentially difficult to support an allegation that there had not been a conversation. This change records the fact that there had been no recording of a conversation having been conducted.
• Particular 5 – again, this amendment relates to the failure to record the making of an enquiry as to the reason for the bruising, which is supported by the evidence.
• Particular 7(a) – change of date to reflect the evidence.
9. Thirdly, to correct an unnecessary addition by the deletion of ‘/or’ from particular 1(c) ‘and/or’, the addition of which was an administrative error.
10. Fourthly, to ensure grammatical correctness, the words ‘as to the cause’ to be inserted within particular 5, between the words ‘as to’ and ‘three bruises’.
11. Fifthly, to correct an error of description. The part of the body referred to in particular 5 had referred inaccurately to ‘arm’ when it should have referred to ‘chin’.
12. It was argued that the Registrant had been put on notice of the proposed changes to the allegation by way of letter dated 09 October 2014. The Registrant had not made any representations on the amendments. It was argued that it did not cause any prejudice to the Registrant and that in some instances these amendments lessened the impact on the Registrant, in that they related to lack of recording rather than lack of action.
13. The Panel gave this matter careful consideration and came to the decision that it would accept some of the amendments and rejected others where there was perceived to be injustice to the Registrant. The Panel noted that the Registrant’s admissions to the allegation related to its form prior to the proposed amendments.
14. The Panel has made the following decisions:
15. The amendments that ensure service user and family anonymity are accepted.
16. The amendment to the stem of particular 1 is approved as it aids clarity.
17. The Panel accept the amendments to 1(a), 1(b), 1(c) and 1(d) in that the dates have been made revised to reflect the matters relating to each service user are agreed for the reasons of clarity and accuracy.
18. The deletion of ‘or’ in 1(c) is approved.
19. The Panel noted that this new particular is a transposition of particular 1(a)(ii), a separate particular. The Panel noted that the material amendment here was the extension of the period, during which the omission to act took place, by some five days at the start of the period, an amendment which made it evidentially accurate.
20. Deletion of ‘In or’ at start of this particular agreed.
21. The insertion of ‘and/or record home visits’, in the Panel’s view, widens the ambit of the allegation to include a failure to undertake a second action. This amendment is therefore not accepted.
22. The insertion of 3(e) is not accepted. The Panel noted that this relates to the same service user as referred to in particular 6, as sent to the Registrant on 03 June 2014. However, the substance of this particular has changed. In the Panel’s view this is a fresh allegation and a widening of the ambit of the case against the Registrant, and is therefore not approved.
23. The proposed amendment to this allegation is alleging that he failed to record a conversation he had with a service user rather than the initial intent of the previous allegation, which was that the Registrant had failed to have a conversation with the service user. This amendment is not approved as it changes the nature of the allegation and widens the mischief alleged beyond that originally alleged.
24. The amendment relating to what the father is alleged to have done to the service user is accepted. The insertion of the words, ‘that his father had slapped him’, are inserted for accuracy.
25. The proposed amendments to the particular relating to the change from ‘arm’ to ‘chin’ and the insertion of the words ‘the cause of’ are approved. The change from failure to record from failing to seek information is not approved as in the Panel’s view this again changes the nature of the allegation and widens it beyond that previously alleged.
26. The change of the date from ‘15 May’ to ‘13 May’ is approved as it is required for accuracy.
27. The Registrant started his contract of employment with Sefton Borough Council (the Borough Council) in 2002, and at that time he was engaged as a Family Support Worker. In 2011 he qualified as a Social Worker and at this time he worked within Locality 3 with Children’s Social Care at the Borough Council.
28. In December 2012, JRE was asked to investigate an allegation that the Registrant had failed to make the statutory visits within the required timescales and had falsified records relating to those visits to Service User E. AH and JRI provided evidence to the employer’s investigation. At the subsequent disciplinary hearing held on the 20 March 2013, the Registrant was given a First Written Warning which was to remain on his employment file for twelve months.
29. In May 2013, JRE was again requested to investigate further allegations relating to failure to make statutory visits to service users, failure to progress cases and to falsification of records. AH again provided evidence to the employer’s investigation. At the subsequent disciplinary hearing held on the 22 November 2013, the Registrant was dismissed from his position. The Registrant unsuccessfully appealed this decision to dismiss him.
30. This matter was referred to the HCPC by the Registrant’s former employer, the Borough Council. The HCPC does not rely on any evidence relating to the first matters which resulted in the Registrant being given a First Written Warning. The Allegation brought by the HCPC relates to the matters which were identified as part of the Borough Council’s second investigation undertaken in 2013.
Decision on Facts
Application for further amendment of the Allegation at the close of the HCPC’s case
31. Based on the evidence which had been deduced during the live testimony of AH at the close of the HCPC’s evidential case, it requested two further amendments to the Allegation.Amendment of particular 1(d) in relation to the date.
32. It was argued that the oral evidence of AH, that there was no visit after 05 September 2012, was more reliable than the reference to 07 September 2012 as included in her witness statement. In correcting her evidence in relation to this particular service user, AH had been assisted by being taken to the audit that related to this family, two female children of which had been visited by the Registrant in September 2012. There were two notes of visits for the two girls shown for 05 and 06 September 2012. The reference to the visit that took place on 06 September was said to relate to the service user identified in particular 1(c) and, therefore, the reference to the visit for 0 5 September 2012 would relate to the sister, the service user identified in 1(d).
33. The Panel rejected this application for further amendment. The records relating to the two service users from Family D had been anonymised, and therefore the Panel, and indeed AH, were unable to identify accurately which of the two service users the two dates referred to. There was evidence that visits had been undertaken on 05 and 06 September 2012, and reference in AH’s statement to a visit on 07 September 2012. The particular is therefore correct, notwithstanding the inconsistency as to when the visit had actually taken place, as no visits had been undertaken since at the latest the 8 September 2012.
Amendment to particular 3(b), to make reference to 3 occasions and not 7.
34. The HCPC stated that the evidence before the Panel supported three identifiable occasions when a visit should have been undertaken. It was unclear how and why seven occasions had been stated. It was accepted that the Registrant had not been given notice of this proposed change. However, it was argued that this narrowed and lessened the ambit of the particular and so it was not causing the Registrant any injustice.
35. The Panel accepted this change in the particular. The Panel considered that there appears to be insufficient evidence of seven occasions when visits should have been carried out in response to concerns. This particular relates to the addressing of serious child welfare concerns and there is public interest in this matter not falling due to an error.
36. In addition to the documentation produced by the HCPC which formed the core bundle (witness statements) and exhibits, the Panel had two documents from the Registrant: a statement produced at the Investigating Committee stage and an email relating to his non-attendance at this hearing. The Panel had placed reliance on the accuracy and completeness of the file summary that had been undertaken by the Borough Council as part of its investigation.
37. The Panel heard live evidence from one witness, AH, who was the Service Manager for the Locality Service. AH had undertaken the initial interviews with the Registrant in May 2013, and had managed the subsequent review of the Registrant’s case files. She presented as a reliable, credible and consistent witness and was able to attest to the information contained in the file summary that was before the Panel. AH had been open about the managerial failings which these matters had illuminated. She stated on several occasions that she had been required to ask the question of herself, her staff, and the system, as to how they allowed this situation to arise.
38. Whilst the Panel appreciated that the witness statement of JRI had been prepared in anticipation of production in these proceedings, the Panel placed little reliance on it. First, JRI was not here to speak to her statement. Secondly, it related to only a few of the particulars of the Allegation. Thirdly, as Team Leader of the Registrant she was not at arm’s length from the issues identified against the Registrant.
39. The Panel had carefully considered the Registrant’s responses in his investigatory and disciplinary interviews at the Borough Council.
Particular 1(a) – proved
40. In reaching its decision on this limb, the Panel has relied on the oral testimony of AH and the file summary that had been undertaken under her supervision. AH stated that the evidence was that this was very much a live service user matter which required action. The Panel also took into account the response recorded of the conversation the Registrant had with AH in which he provided inconsistent information. He stated variously that two appointments had been made and had been recorded in his diary but one had been cancelled and another scribbled out; that the case was due for closure; and that he had attended meetings in February and April 2013 relating to this family. Notwithstanding these statements, the evidence before the Panel is that no visits had been undertaken by the Registrant after 16 July 2012 and until the time this matter was investigated in May 2013. The Panel therefore finds this particular proved.
Particular 1(b) – proved
41. The evidence in support of the Panel’s decision that this is proved to the requisite standard comes again from AH and the file summary. AH confirmed that no visits are recorded after 04 October 2012. In interview, the Registrant confirmed that this was probably the last date that he had visited. He had also stated that a family support worker had been involved in the case which is supported by evidence within the case file. The Panel finds this particular proved.
42. Particulars 1(c) and 1(d) relate to two girls from the same family and, whilst there is joint documentation for both, the evidence is not exactly the same and so the Panel has identified the evidence relating to each separately.
Particular 1(c) – proved
43. This service user had been allocated to the Registrant on 25 June 2012. AH stated in her witness statement that a visit to this service user took place on 06 September 2012. The file summary included a note by the author that the Registrant had confirmed that there were no visits made to these girls subsequent to 06 September 2012. The Panel finds this particular proved.
Particular 1(d) – proved
44. AH’s written statement mentioned 07 September 2012 as the last date for a visit to this service user; however, in oral testimony she stated that the file summary information was likely to be more accurate. This recorded visits for both girls on 05 and 06 September 2012 and no subsequent visits. At the investigation meeting with AH, the Registrant had again been vague in his responses and recollection. The Panel finds this particular proved.
Particular 2 – proved
45. There is evidence that this case, involving Child B who was in contact with a violent father and a grandfather with historic abuse allegations against him, was allocated to the Registrant on 25 June 2012. There was a visit conducted on 16 July 2012. The file summary for this service user provides a summary of the social care activity from the date of allocation of the case to the Registrant until the date of the initial investigatory interview on 15 May 2013. The author of the file summary states ‘no risk assessment completed by MS in relation to the father of child B’ and ‘no risk assessment of grandfather by MS of child B’. The Registrant is not recorded as giving any response specific to the issue of not carrying out risk assessments. The Panel finds this particular proved.
Particular 3(a) – proved
46. The evidence before the Panel identifies three child welfare concerns and these are recorded on 24 September 2012, 07 November 2012, and 23 January 2013. There is no evidence of a home visit being carried out to address these noted concerns. The Registrant stated that he did follow up these matters but his account of what was done and the reasons for lack of recording of actions is vague and unsupported by the evidence. The Panel notes that one of the reasons offered at that time was that he thought that he was involved in a ‘distinct piece of work’ and that the case was due to be closed in September 2012, statements which were not supported by the evidence of AH nor by that contained in the case file summaries. The Panel finds this particular proved.
Particular 3(b) – not proved
47. The Panel had before it evidence of home visits being carried out by the Registrant on 08 June 2012 and 12 June 2012, both in relation to core assessments. There is a record of another visit being undertaken on 13 March 2013, nine months later. There is also evidence that concerns were raised in July 2012 in respect of the child’s mother, who was seen with a new partner. The file summary notes, ‘no recording of action taken to follow this up’. The Panel accepted this as evidence of one incident which triggered the need for a response. The Panel does not have evidence of three bases of concern that required to be addressed as identified in the amended allegation. The Panel finds this particular not proved.
Particular 3(c) – proved
48. The file summary for this service user notes two child welfare concerns being recorded. First, on 07 December 2012, when the Police had made contact with the service user’s family, a record is made that the service user’s father had slapped the service user several times. There is no record of a visit being arranged in response to this concern.
49. Secondly, on 17 April 2013 an incident was reported by an external agency, that in response to the service user attempting to run away, the service user’s father had allegedly tried to run him over with a car. It was also reported that the service user had bruising to his chin. AH’s testimony supports the accuracy of the recording of these incidents.
50. The Registrant’s recorded investigatory interview responses provide no evidence of home visits being undertaken subsequent to the incident; the file summary confirms this. Although he is recorded as stating ‘he didn’t see any bruising’, the Registrant did not provide a date associated with that observation. The Panel accepts the external agency’s report. The Panel find this particular proved.
Particular 3(d) – proved
51. In relation to particulars 1(c) and 1(d), the Panel has set out above the evidence of what is recorded in relation to visits to these two service users. The Panel’s findings are that no visits were undertaken after 06 September 2012.
52. The file summary before the Panel has identified the recording of three child welfare concerns. These are dated 07 November 2012, when the Police were called to the family home when the mother was drunk and aggressive; 09 November 2012, when the mother presented to hospital with mental health problems; and 26 February 2013, when there is a domestic violence incident at the family home. There is no record of any action being taken by the Registrant in response to these incidents and the Panel therefore finds this particular proved.
Particular 4 – not proved
53. The Registrant is recorded as describing in his investigatory interview in August 2013 an occasion when both child and father were present and makes reference to “the slapping”. The file summary for this family records a home visit by the Registrant on 16 January 2013 when the slapping was discussed with the father. The file summary also records a meeting with the child on 21 January 2013. There is no record of the substance of the discussions that took place.
54. The onus is on the HCPC to present evidence which, on the balance of probabilities, is supportive of the allegation. In the Panel’s assessment it has not discharged that duty on this particular as there is a possibility that the Registrant talked to the child about this incident, but did not record the discussion. The Panel finds this particular not proved.
Particular 5 – not proved
55. The file summary records the fact that an external agency had contacted the Social Services on 17 April 2013 in relation to an incident within Family A. There is no record on the electronic system of a visit to the family. The Registrant told AH that he had seen the family since the incident, but it is not clear whether the child was present when he saw the family. At the investigatory interview on the 30 August 2013, the Registrant stated that he did not see any bruising. It is not clear to the Panel whether the Registrant ever saw the child with bruising on his chin given that there are no recorded visits by the Registrant after the date of that incident. The Panel therefore concluded that the Registrant couldn’t ask for an explanation for bruising that he had not seen. The Panel considers that the HCPC has not provided sufficient evidence to support this particular to the requisite standard. The Panel has found this particular not proved.
Particular 6 – proved
56. This particular concerns a service user who was self-harming. The Registrant was allocated to the service user on 25 June 2012. The file summary records that the last visits to the family of this service user were 05 and 06 September 2012. A new social worker was allocated to this service user in May 2013. According to the file summary, the service user told the new social worker that she had confided in the Registrant at a visit in September 2012 that she was self-harming and said that he had undertaken to arrange a referral to Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). In her oral evidence, AH stated that the new social worker had reported to her in May 2013 that the service user had confided in the Registrant, had not been referred and had continued to self-harm.
57. AH confirmed that in interview the Registrant had recalled at the end of 2012 this service user talking to him about self-harming. There is no referral to CAMHS on the file summary. The Panel therefore finds this particular proved.
Particular 7(a)(i) and (ii) – both proved
58. The Panel had documentary evidence in relation to the entries on the two CIN plans uploaded by the Registrant as referred to in limbs (i) and (ii).
59. At the preliminary stage of the proceedings, the Panel had sought clarification on whether there were any issues arising from the HCPC offering no evidence in relation to particular 9, relating to dishonesty arising from particular 7. The Panel received legal advice on this issue and accepted that in relation to the wording used in the stem of 7 that the “deliberate recording of false information” inferred dishonesty and that, given recent legal case law, dishonesty did not need to be separately pleaded.
60. The Panel heard that the Registrant had undertaken this task in direct response to an enquiry made by AH about the non-existence of CIN plans for his service users. This enquiry had been made in May 2013 when she was overseeing the Registrant’s team in his Team Leader’s absence. According to AH, members of the team were struggling with the task of getting their electronic records uploaded and kept up-to-date, as the recording process then was time consuming and required a sequence of documents to be entered. The Registrant’s uploading of several plans had taken place at the end of a day within the limited period of time that was available to him after a day which had mostly been dedicated to training. This fact of so many records being recorded within such a limited period had alerted AH to “dig down” and investigate the underpinning evidence for the two plans referred to in these particulars. It was then that she realised that the information recorded on the system disguised the lack of any underlying supporting agreement and communication.
61. In relation to the issue of whether these entries had been uploaded ‘deliberately’ and were ‘false’, the Panel noted the following factors:
• The urgent need to upload these documents in response to AH’s enquiry about their absence on the system.
• The plans entered on the system had an ‘effective from’ date which was indicative that the plans had been agreed.
• The ‘effective from’ entries on these two CIN plans have a date that is six or seven months prior to the date they were uploaded on the system.
• According to the evidence of AH an ‘effective from’ date would imply that a CIN meeting had taken place on, or before, that date.
62. The Registrant, in the investigatory interview of August 2013, admitted that no CIN meetings had been held in respect of these two families. There is no record of CIN meetings having taken place in the file summaries of these two families.
63. The Registrant uploading information which indicated that a plan had been effective from an historic date was misleading and inaccurate. Each entry supported an assumption that a CIN meeting had taken place when in fact this was not the case. The entries were therefore false in terms of accuracy and were made with intent to mislead others about the true situation. The Panel therefore finds this particular proved.
Particulars 7(b), 8 and 9
64. No evidence was adduced by the HCPC.
Decision on Grounds
65. The allegation faced by the Registrant is pleaded by the HCPC in the alternative of misconduct and/or lack of competence. The Legal Assessor included within her advice to the Panel guidance on the distinction to be drawn between these two grounds. Actions taken by the Registrant, intentionally or recklessly, are as supportive of a finding of misconduct. Those which emanated from a lack of understanding or ability are supportive of a finding of a lack of competence.
66. The Panel appreciated that in reaching its decision it is exercising its judgment and that at this stage in the proceedings there is no onus on the HCPC. The Panel has taken into account the guidance set out in the relevant Practice Note and the Standards of Proficiency and Conduct set out in the published professional codes of the HCPC which applied from 1 August 2012 and GSCC which were in force previously.
67. The Registrant’s lack of action and failure to identify the need for action are serious matters. The particulars found proved arise from the fundamental professional responsibilities of a social worker in relation to safeguarding and child protection issues. The Panel considers that its findings in relation to particulars 1-6 (excluding 3(b), 4 and 5) are omissions which collectively constitute misconduct.
68. In relation to the action identified in particular 7(a), the conduct here is a serious commission: there was a deliberate action of inputting inaccurate information that would mislead other professionals with responsibility for safeguarding and child protection issues. The Panel considers this to be serious misconduct.
69. The Panel appreciated that the standard against which a Registrant’s actions are to be assessed are those of a reasonably competent practitioner. The Panel has agreed with the HCPC’s submissions that the following provisions are relevant to the Registrant’s failings and behaviour.
GSCC – Codes of Practice for Social Care Workers in force until 31 July 2012
2. As a social care worker, you must strive to establish and maintain the trust and confidence of service users and carers.
2.1 being honest and trustworthy
2.2 communicating in an appropriate, open, accurate and straightforward way
2.4 being reliable and dependable
2.5 honouring work commitments, agreements and arrangements and, when it is not possible to do so, explaining why to service users and carers
4 As a social care worker, you must respect the rights of service users while seeking to ensure that their behaviour does not harm themselves or other people.
4.2 Following risk assessment policies and procedures to assess whether the behaviour of service users presents a risk of harm to themselves or others.
6. As a social care worker, you must be accountable for the quality of your work and take responsibility for maintaining and improving your knowledge and skills.
6.1 Meeting relevant standards of practice and working in a lawful, safe and effective way;
6.2 Maintaining clear and accurate records as required by procedures established for your work;
6.3 Informing your employers or the appropriate authority about any personal difficulties that might affect your ability to do your job competently and safely.
6.4 Seeking assistance from your employer or the appropriate authority if you do not feel able or adequately prepared to carry out any aspect of your work, or you are not sure about how to proceed in a work matter.
HCPC Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics (SCPE) effective from 1 August 2012
1. You must act in the best interest of service users.
7. You must communicate properly and effectively with service users and other practitioners.
10. You must keep accurate records.
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.
HCPC Standards of Proficiency for Social Workers in England effective from 1 August 2012
Registrant social workers must:
1. Be able to practise safely and effectively within their scope of practice
1.1 know the limits of their practice and when to seek advice or refer to another professional
1.2 recognise the need to manage their own workload and resources and be able to practise accordingly
1.3 be able to undertake assessments of risk, need and capacity and respond appropriately
1.5 be able to recognise signs of harm, abuse and neglect and know how to respond appropriately
2. be able to practise within the legal and ethical boundaries of their profession
2.2 understand the need to promote the best interests of service users and carers at all times
2.3 understand the need to protect, safeguard and promote the wellbeing of children, young people and vulnerable adults
4. be able to practise as an autonomous professional, exercising their own professional judgement
4.1 be able to assess a situation, determine its nature and severity and call upon the required knowledge and experience to deal with it
4.3 recognise that they are personally responsible for, and must be able to justify, their decisions and recommendations.
10. be able to maintain records appropriately
10.1 be able to keep accurate, comprehensive and comprehensible records in accordance with applicable legislation, protocols and guidelines.
70. The Panel considers that the Registrant’s omissions and commissions are serious breaches of these provisions and fall far below the standards expected of a reasonably competent practitioner.
Decision on Impairment
71. The HCPC advanced the argument that the matters found proved are serious and cover a wide timescale and relate to a number of service users. Whilst the Registrant has made admissions and has expressed remorse for his former behaviour, there is no evidence before the Panel that the Registrant has taken steps to address that behaviour and there is, therefore, a likelihood of a repetition. Further, the matters raised include public interest concerns relating to the upholding of professional reputation and standards and confidence in the regulatory process. The HCPC therefore maintains that the Panel should make a finding of current impairment.
72. The Panel has no up-to-date information from the Registrant in relation to the health issues which he had informed the Borough Council about at the interview at the investigation stage. The Registrant made reference to this continuing health condition in the representations he made to the Investigating Committee held on 29 May 2014. There is no evidence that the Registrant has worked in social care since these matters came to light in 2013. In the evidence he placed before the Investigating Committee, he stated that he was working outside of his profession and in his email of 27 April 2015 he stated that he wished his name to be removed from the HCPC Register, an indication that he does not require his professional registration.
73. The Panel accepted that the Registrant has expressed significant remorse and apology from the outset in respect of the impact of his actions and omissions on service users. The Panel has read the representations made by the Registrant to the HCPC at the investigatory stage of the proceedings, which included information relating to how he was addressing his health conditions. The Panel accepts that the Registrant has subsequently gained insight into the impact that his health conditions and personal circumstances had on him and his practice during the relevant period. However, there is no evidence before this Panel of steps taken by the Registrant since April 2014 to ensure that there would not be a repetition of his failings in the future. This being the case, the Panel found that there is current impairment on the personal component of its decision.
74. The Panel agreed with the HCPC’s assertion that the misconduct was serious, occurring as it did across a range of child care cases and over a wide period of time. Given the child safeguarding issues that have been raised in this case, the public confidence in the social work profession and the regulatory process would be undermined if the Registrant were allowed to remain in practice without some mark against his registration and without some restriction on his practice. The Panel therefore finds that there is impairment on public interest grounds as well as the personal component.
Decision on Sanction
75. In reaching its decision, the Panel has taken into account the representations of the both the HCPC and the Registrant, the Legal Assessor’s advice and the guidance set out in the HCPC’s “Indicative Sanctions Policy”. With a view to assisting with its decision, the Panel has identified the following factors relating to the context of the Registrant’s conduct at the time that the matters came to light and subsequently.
76. The Registrant has:
• Assisted with Borough Council investigations.
• Made numerous admissions from the outset during the Borough Council’s investigation and has made full admissions at the Investigating Committee stage in the HCPC process.
• Engaged with the HCPC process and the Panel notes the fact that the Registrant did not attend this hearing as he considered that it would be detrimental to his health
• Expressed remorse, apologised and acknowledged the impact his lack of insight had at the time on his practice and on service users.
• Qualified relatively recently and it would appear had received little or no close scrutiny and supervision of his practice.
• There was evidence of serious management failings in relation to monitoring and supervision of his caseload and in this regard the Panel noted the following:
• The Panel had before it evidence that there had been a significant and sudden increase in the volume of his work over a period of months during the summer of 2012. This was demonstrated by the fact that his team took over carrying out initial assessments from the ‘front door’ team, which was struggling to cope. The ‘front door’ assessments were said by a colleague to be very demanding.
• During this time the Registrant is recorded as having had fifty one cases which was recognised as being excessive. He had been given ‘admin days’ to catch up with his caseload recording.
• The Registrant’s heavy caseload was known to his Team Leader, JRI, and by his Service Lead, AH.
• It was acknowledged that the Registrant was one of a number of members of the department who had a backlog of cases.
• The IT system was acknowledged to be difficult to handle at that time and all social workers were encountering difficulties in uploading cases histories.
• The Registrant had been the victim of an assault by a service user’s relative in 2011 whilst carrying out his duties and there is evidence that the Registrant had subsequently suffered significant health problems for which he received medical attention and support.
• The Registrant displayed a lack of insight into the effect his health had on his professional practice at the time of these events. As a consequence he failed to bring to the department’s attention the needs of the children and families in his care.
• The Registrant had not sought appropriate support from his manager or from his employer’s occupational health department.
• These are not isolated incidents and had occurred over a period of time.
• These matters are serious involving vulnerable children who required professional support and who were put at risk of harm by the Registrant’s acts and omissions.
77. The Panel considered carefully the nature of the conduct in particular 7(a) and concluded that, whilst deliberate, this occurred in the context of the Registrant’s significant workload pressures and his personal difficulties at that time.
78. As directed, the Panel started its deliberations with considering whether this is a case in which it could take no action or impose the mediation process. The Panel has decided that the matters are too serious for no action and as there is no party to engage in or benefit from the mediation process this sanction is inappropriate.
79. The Panel then went on to consider the imposition of a Caution Order and, again, came to the decision that this was not an appropriate sanction. First, this was not an isolated matter and the matters found are not minor. Secondly, service users had been placed at the risk of harm and this measure would not provide any level of service user protection. In addition it would not provide the Registrant with any means to address the failings which have been identified in his practice.
80. The Panel then moved on to consider whether a Conditions of Practice Order could be crafted that would provide the requisite level of service user protection and support for the Registrant’s return, at some point in the future, to safe practice. The Panel concluded that it was not possible to formulate appropriate conditions to address the nature of the misconduct
81. Further, there was no indication from the Registrant at this time that he would be willing or able to comply with any conditions.
82. The Panel then gave serious consideration to the issue of whether the matters found are so serious that they are fundamentally at variance with the Registrant remaining on the register. The Panel took into account all the mitigating and aggravating matters identified above and the detailed guidance included on this topic in the “Indicative Sanctions Policy” in reaching its decision. The fact that the Registrant had shown remorse, made an apology and shown insight into his former misconduct, made full admissions and had engaged in the process persuaded the Panel that a Striking Off Prder at this time would be disproportionate. The Panel acknowledged that the Registrant had stated his intention not to return to practice. However, the Panel accepts that this may be a transient position in the circumstances.
83. The Panel considered that a period of suspension would provide the Registrant with the opportunity to further reflect on past events and for him to fully address the health concerns that he has brought to the Panel’s attention in his representations made in April 2014. The Panel’s view is that, given the various and numerous pressures which pertained at the Borough Council at the time of these events, a Striking Off would be disproportionate in all the circumstances of this case.
84. In reaching its decision to suspend the Registrant, the Panel has given some thought to the issue of what information the Registrant could provide to a reviewing Panel should he wish to demonstrate his desire to return to practice. Whilst the Panel appreciates that it cannot bind a reviewing Panel, matters which the Registrant may wish to provide evidence on are:
• Full insight into his failings, in particular insight as to why he failed to alert management to the extent of his inability to cope with his responsibilities and that he was leaving service users at risk.
• Updated information relating to his health and personal circumstances.
• An outline of the strategies he would use to prevent a recurrence of these failings in similar circumstances.
85. The Panel considered twelve months to be an appropriate period to allow the development of insight and to address the health concerns detailed by the Registrant.
The Panel imposed a Suspension Order for a period of 12 months.
The Order will be reviewed before its expiry, i.e. 27 May 2016.
This was a Conduct and Competence Committee hearing held at the HCPC between the 27 - 29 April 2015.
History of Hearings for Martin Joseph Sands
|Date||Panel||Hearing type||Outcomes / Status|
|23/10/2017||Conduct and Competence Committee||Review Hearing||Voluntary Removal agreed|
|28/04/2017||Conduct and Competence Committee||Review Hearing||Suspended|
|22/04/2016||Conduct and Competence Committee||Review Hearing||Suspended|
|27/04/2015||Conduct and Competence Committee||Final Hearing||Suspended|