Mrs Edna Pool
1. Were convicted of an offence of failure to provide a specimen of breath for analysis upon request, contrary to Section 7(6) of the Road Traffic Act 1988.
2. By reason of your conviction as set out at paragraph 1 your fitness to practise as a Paramedic is impaired.
1. The case for the Health and Care Professions Council (the HCPC) was presented by Ms Melinka Berridge, of Kingsley Napley Solicitors. The Registrant was not present or represented.
Service and proceeding in absence
2. The Panel was satisfied that Notice of today’s hearing was properly served on the Registrant in terms of Rules 3 and 6 of the Conduct and Competence Committee Procedure Rules and thereafter considered Ms Berridge’s application to proceed in the Registrant’s absence in terms of Rule 11. The Panel has been advised by Ms Berridge that the Registrant had confirmed in a letter dated 27 April 2016 that she would not be attending the hearing. This letter was received by the Panel within a bundle of document submitted by the Registrant. The Panel noted that the Registrant had stated that she was concerned that it would adversely affect her health were she to attend the hearing today. Ms Berridge referred the Panel to the factors set out in the case of R v Jones  UKHL 5.
3. The Panel is aware that the discretion to proceed in absence is one which should be exercised with the utmost care and caution. It is clear that the Registrant is aware of today’s hearing. She has advised that she has no intention of practising as a paramedic and has not asked for an adjournment. The Panel has no reason to believe that she would attend at a future date if the matter were adjourned. The Panel is of the view that the Registrant has chosen not to engage in these proceedings. The Panel has determined that it is in the public interest to proceed in her absence today.
Application to amend the allegation
4. Ms Berridge thereafter made an application to amend particular 1 of the allegation by deleting the words “two specimens” and substituting the words “a specimen”, and deleting the word “under” and substituting the words “contrary to”. Ms Berridge advised that the Registrant had been given notice of the amendments and had not provided any response. The Panel considered the advice of the Legal Assessor and agreed to allow the amendment as it reflected the terms of the extract conviction and did not cause any injustice to the Registrant.
5. The Registrant is a paramedic who worked for the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) for over 25 years until she was dismissed on the grounds of gross misconduct on 15 January 2015. On 23 June 2015, the Registrant was convicted of failing to provide a specimen of breath contrary to Section 7(6) of the Road Traffic Act 1988.
6. The Registrant provided her account of the circumstances of the conviction to the SAS as part of an investigatory interview. She stated that on 3 September 2014 she was with her great-niece and -nephew (aged five and six) and they had been watching entertainment at a caravan park in the evening. She stated that she had one glass of wine and then drove back through the caravan park to their caravan. She advised that she hit an empty caravan, did not stop and continued driving to her caravan. She stated that she was shaken when she returned to her caravan and that her husband gave her some wine. She advised that she went to bed and was woken by the police who informed her husband that the incident had caused damage to the caravan. The Registrant stated that she had been honest with the police and confirmed that she had been driving the car.
7. Police Scotland have not provided any facts of the prosecution of this matter and therefore the Registrant’s version of events cannot be corroborated or disputed.
Decision on Facts and Grounds
8. The Panel considered the submissions by Ms Berridge and the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel had sight of the extract conviction dated 28 September 2015 and accepted this as proof of the conviction and of the findings of fact upon which it was based in terms of Rule 10(1)(d) of the Conduct and Competence Committee Procedure Rules. The Panel is therefore satisfied that the facts and grounds have been proved.
Decision on Impairment
9. The Panel next considered whether the Registrant’s current fitness to practise is impaired by her conviction.
10. The Panel is aware that this is a matter for its own professional judgement. In reaching its decision, the Panel has had regard to the conduct of the Registrant, the nature, circumstances and gravity of the offence and the critically important public policy issues, in particular the need to maintain confidence in the profession as well as declaring and upholding proper standards of conduct and behaviour which the public expect.
11. The Panel has first considered the personal component of the Registrant’s conduct. The Panel has noted that the Registrant entered a plea of guilty to the charge which indicates a degree of insight. The Panel also notes that she is still subject to a period of disqualification. Taking this into account and taking account of the nature and circumstances surrounding the offence, the Panel is satisfied that there are concerns in relation to the personal component of the Registrant’s actions.
12. In respect of the critically important public policy issues, the Registrant’s actions clearly bring the profession into disrepute and undermine public confidence in the profession. As a paramedic, the Registrant is in a position of trust and her actions have undermined that trust. The Panel has concluded that, given the nature and circumstances of the Registrant’s actions, she has clearly breached standards 3 and 13 of the HCPC Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics: “you must keep high standards of personal conduct” and “you must behave with integrity and make sure that your behaviour does not damage the public’s confidence in you or your profession”.
13. In order to maintain public confidence in the profession and the regulatory process and to uphold proper standards of conduct, the Panel has concluded that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired. The allegation is therefore well founded.
Decision on Sanction
14. The Panel has heard submissions from Ms Berridge on the issue of sanction. The Panel has also considered the advice of the Legal Assessor and had regard to the HCPC’s Indicative Sanctions Policy.
15. The Panel is aware that the purpose of sanction is not to be punitive. It must consider the risk the Registrant may pose to those using or needing her services in the future and determine what degree of public protection is required. The Panel must also give appropriate weight to the wider public interest which includes the deterrent effect on other Registrants, the reputation of the profession and public confidence in the regulatory process.
16. The Panel has considered the sanctions available to it in ascending order of severity. The Panel considered that to take no action or to impose a caution would not be appropriate given the serious nature of the conviction. The Panel has also considered that a conditions of practice order would not be appropriate given the nature of the Registrant’s conduct and the fact that the conduct took place outside of a professional setting.
17. The Panel next considered a suspension order. In terms of the Indicative Sanctions Policy, a suspension order is appropriate where the allegation is of a serious nature and where the evidence suggests that the Registrant will be able to resolve her failings. The Panel has had sight of the Registrant’s investigatory interview and of her letter of 27 April 2016, both of which refer to health issues relating to stressful events in her life. The Registrant has also submitted the first page of an Occupational Health Assessment dated 18 November 2014 which similarly makes reference to these health issues. In addition, the Panel has had sight of two positive references from colleagues and is aware that there have been no previous referrals to the HCPC and no prior issues of a similar nature with her employers in the course of her 25 year career. This would appear, therefore, to have been an isolated incident. Taking all of these matters into account, the Panel has reached the view that the Registrant’s conduct, although serious, is unlikely to be repeated. The Panel has concluded that in these circumstance a suspension order would be an appropriate and proportionate sanction.
18. The Panel also considered a striking off order. However, the Panel reached the view that this would be disproportionate, given the significant mitigation in terms of the Registrant’s health issues and the fact that she has had no similar issues in her lengthy career.
19. This Order will be reviewed by another Panel prior to its expiry. It may assist a future panel if the Registrant were to produce up-to-date evidence concerning the health issues referred to by her and in the Occupational Health report, an indication of her coping strategies for dealing with stress factors, and a reflective piece concerning the circumstances leading to her conviction.
That the Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Edna Pool for a period of 12 months from the date this order comes into effect.