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.
On 1 and 2 December 2014 a Panel of the HCPC Conduct and Competence Committee (CCC) heard evidence of fact upon the basis of which the Panel found misconduct. By reason of this misconduct the Panel found the fitness to practise of the Registrant was impaired. It then went on to consider which sanction, if any, should be imposed and determined that a two year Caution Order was the appropriate sanction.
The Professional Standards Authority (PSA) appealed the decision of the CCC and at a hearing in the High Court on 10 July 2015 Mr Justice Blake ordered that the appeal be allowed upon the basis that the imposition of a Caution Order was unduly lenient. He quashed the Order and remitted the case for a re-hearing before the CCC, such re-hearing limited to the issue of sanction.
Following the judgment of Mr Justice Blake on 10 July 2015 a Panel of the CCC today sat with a view to reconsidering the sanction previously imposed.
Mr Walters, on behalf of the HCPC, referred the Panel to Mr Justice Blake’s judgment of 10 July 2015 and explained that today’s hearing would be a reconsideration by the Panel of the sanction that should be imposed. He referred the Panel to a number of paragraphs set out in Mr Justice Blake’s judgment including his reasoning for finding that a Caution Order was unduly lenient. Mr Walters referred in particular to those paragraphs in the judgment which set out the Registrant’s repeated and serious dishonesty and failure to engage fully with the regulatory process.
Mr Walters submitted that a Conditions of Practice Order would not be appropriate in light of the repeated and serious dishonesty that had been found, and he stated that there was insufficient information as to whether the Registrant would be likely to engage with the terms of a Conditions of Practice Order. He then submitted the Panel should consider a Suspension Order or a Striking Off Order. He reminded the Panel that it should take account of the HCPC Indicative Sanctions Policy relative to the making of either a Suspension Order or a Striking Off Order and the Panel should bear in mind that any order should be the least restrictive necessary to ensure public protection and be in the wider public interest. Mr Walters suggested that the Panel may consider that a Suspension Order would give the Registrant time in which to reflect and gain insight. He reminded the Panel that the dishonesty related to self-interest. He then suggested that if the Panel considers a Suspension Order would not meet the gravity of the dishonesty, which he submitted was serious and deliberate, it should consider a Striking off Order, and that they should be sure that such an order is the only way in which to adequately protect the public. Mr Walters finally submitted that the Panel should consider whether the Registrant should be given a further chance to remediate her failings or not.
The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor, and referred to the HCPC Indicative Sanctions Policy dated September 2015. The purpose of a sanction is not to punish a Registrant, though it may have that effect. The purpose of a sanction is to protect the public and the wider public interest, which includes maintaining confidence in the profession and the regulatory process and acting as a deterrent to other Registrants. The Panel applied the principle of proportionality and balanced the public interest against the Registrant’s interest in continuing to practise as a Social Worker.
The Panel first considered whether to impose any sanction at all, and if so what sanction ought to be imposed. The Panel considered that the facts and misconduct found proved which amounted to misconduct were sufficiently serious that to impose no sanction would be totally insufficient in the circumstances. In particular, they related to findings of dishonesty.
It next considered what sanction ought to be imposed and in considering this applied its mind to each of the available sanctions in ascending order starting with the least restrictive. The Panel considered the imposition of a Caution Order. According to the policy, a Caution Order may be an appropriate sanction for cases where the lapse is isolated, limited or relatively minor in nature, there is a low risk of recurrence, and the Registrant has shown insight and taken appropriate remedial action. The Panel determined, based on the facts found proved and the nature of the misconduct, that a Caution Order would be wholly inappropriate. The Panel considered the repeated instances of dishonesty, and referred to the findings of the previous Panel which questioned the credibility and reliability of the explanations provided by the Registrant. The Panel did not consider that the misconduct identified could reasonably be regarded as minor in nature, and considers the dishonesty and the nature of the omissions as particularly serious in the context of the role of a Social Worker. The Panel noted that it has limited information upon which to draw regarding the risk of repetition given the lack of engagement from the Registrant. The Panel notes that the Registrant maintained her dishonesty throughout the proceedings with the HCPC, which thereby gives rise to some risk of recurrence. The Panel acknowledges that the Registrant, in her Response Proforma, stated that she ‘apologises and regrets her actions.’ The Panel does not consider that this sufficiently demonstrates insight in relation to the impact of her actions on the profession, although it does indicate some remorse. There is no further information before the Panel that indicates the Registrant has developed sufficient insight into her actions of dishonesty. Similarly, there is no information upon which to draw regarding any remedial action undertaken by the Registrant. The Panel has also noted the comments made by Mr Justice Blake in his judgment in which he considers that a Caution Order is inappropriate and too lenient in the circumstances. Accordingly, the Panel does not impose a Caution Order.
The Panel went on to consider the imposition of a Conditions of Practice Order. The Panel concluded a Conditions of Practice Order would not be appropriate in light of the serious nature of the dishonesty found proved. Additionally, the Panel does not have current knowledge of the Registrant’s current practice, employment or personal situation. The Panel would be unable to formulate appropriate, realistic and verifiable conditions in these current circumstances. Furthermore, the Panel does not have confidence that the Registrant would engage or comply with conditions if such conditions could be devised. In all the circumstances, the Panel is satisfied that a Conditions of Practice Order would not be appropriate.
The Panel next considered the making of a Suspension Order. In doing so, the Panel considered very carefully those factors identified in the Indicative Sanctions Policy (dated September 2015) dealing with the making of such an order. At the same time, it also considered those factors relative to the making of a Striking Off Order. The Panel considered that a Suspension Order would give the Registrant the opportunity to reflect and remediate her misconduct. It noted, in particular, the Response Proforma, in which the Registrant now accepts the facts found proved against her, whereas previously, she had not. The Panel considered that there remained some hope that the Registrant’s circumstances had improved and she would have the opportunity to reflect on her misconduct and gain insight into it. The making of a Suspension Order would give the necessary public protection and would address the wider public interest, namely the confidence the public have in social workers and the standards expected of them, would be adequately protected.
The Panel took into account that its role is not to be punitive. The Panel has noted the contents of the Response Proforma in which the Registrant now admits the facts, has apologised and expressed regret for her actions. She is a qualified Social Worker of some 13 years’ experience with no previous disciplinary matters recorded against her. Her dishonesty followed an episode in her life of some difficulty.
The Panel next considered whether a Striking Off Order would be appropriate in this case. In doing so, the Panel notes the guidance in the Indicative Sanctions Policy which states that a Striking Off Order is a sanction of last resort, should be used where there is no other way to protect the public and appropriate in cases where a Registrant’s inability or unwillingness to resolve matters will suggest that a lower sanction may not be appropriate. The Panel notes that the Registrant’s previous representations and the recent Response Proforma provide some indication that she has engaged, albeit in a limited way. Furthermore, the Panel has carefully considered the factors that caused the Registrant to act in the way in which she did. It considers that these factors are such that it would not be incompatible with her name remaining on the Register. The Panel considers that the Registrant can be afforded the opportunity to reflect on her actions, and develop appropriate insight particularly in relation to public protection, the reputation of the profession, and maintaining public confidence in the profession. In the Panel’s opinion, having considered the range of mitigating and aggravating factors, to strike her from the Register would be disproportionate at this time. Accordingly, it does not make a Striking Off Order.
In all the circumstances, the Panel imposes upon the Registrant a Suspension Order for a period of 12 months. The Panel notes that it has not been provided with any testimonials or further information relative to the Registrant’s current position. The Registrant has not offered any information that would support her insight into her misconduct. The Panel considers that the period of 12 months will give the Registrant the opportunity to reflect upon her misconduct and gain adequate insight into it to enable her suspension to be removed.
In the Panel’s view, a future panel would be assisted by the Registrant’s attendance and the provision of the following:
- A reflective statement regarding the impact of her actions;
- Testimonials from recent employer(s);
- Character references, particularly from those aware of the current proceedings;
- Any other evidence or information relating to her current circumstances.
The order imposed today will apply from 20 January 2016.
This order will be reviewed again before its expiry on 20 January 2017.
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|