Stephen Anthony Arthur

: Social worker

: SW20458

: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing:10:00 06/02/2017 End: 17:00 08/02/2017

: Health and Care Professions Council, 405 Kennington Road, London, SE11 4PT

: Conduct and Competence Committee
: Conditions of Practice

Allegation

(as amended at the Final Hearing):

During the course of your employment as a Social Worker with Surrey County Council, you:

1. On 4 March 2015, received a safeguarding alert in relation to Service User A and did not take any action in response to the alert.

2. On 5 March 2015, received an email from Colleague A in relation to Service User B, which required a care needs assessment to be completed and you did not ensure that the assessment was undertaken.

3. The matters set out in paragraph 1-2 constitute misconduct.

4. By reason of your misconduct, your fitness to practise is impaired.

Finding

Preliminary matters

Service

1. The Panel determined that there was good service of the Notice of Hearing having had sight of the necessary documentation and proof of service indicating that paperwork had been sent to the Registrant’s HCPC registered address by first class post in good time.

Proceeding in Absence

2. It was submitted on behalf of the HCPC that this hearing should proceed in the absence of the Registrant. This submission was based on the fact that good service has been found proved and the Registrant has communicated with the HCPC last month, acknowledging that the final hearing was listed for today’s date but that he did not intend to appear or be represented at the hearing.  Mr Foxsmith submitted that an adjournment has not been requested, and accordingly an adjournment was unlikely to encourage the Registrant’s attendance at a future date. The Registrant has voluntarily absented himself. 

3. The Panel considered that the Registrant had had the opportunity to request an adjournment or to attend. The Panel was mindful that the Registrant has returned a completed Response Proforma to the HCPC offices, with a signature dated 31 January 2017, in which he has indicated that he does not intend to be present or to be represented, albeit there is some discrepancy in dates, given that the document is headed with an instruction to return the proforma by 2 January 2017.    Further, the Registrant has made available detailed representations in response to the Allegation. The Panel considered that the Registrant had made a deliberate decision not to attend. In addition, 3 witnesses were present and ready to give evidence and it is appropriate to deal with the matter in an expeditious manner.

4. The Panel accepted the Legal Assessor’s advice and noted the revised HCPC Practice Note on “Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant”.  It exercised due care and caution in coming to a decision and determined that it would exercise its discretion to proceed in the absence of the Registrant. It arrived at this decision on the basis of the following criteria:

• the Registrant had not asked for an adjournment;

• the Registrant had indicated that he did not intend to attend;

• that the Registrant’s non-attendance was voluntary;

• that it is not possible to know whether the Registrant will attend on an alternative date if the hearing is adjourned, given that no reason for non-attendance has been provided;

• that the Panel had a duty to be fair, not only to the Registrant, but also to the HCPC as regulator and representative of the public interest in protection of the public in this area of social care.

5. The Panel determined that it was fair, proportionate and in the public interest to proceed today.

Amending the Allegation

6. Mr Foxsmith, on behalf of the HCPC, applied to amend the Allegation.  He submitted that the amendments a) more accurately reflect the evidence, b) correct a typographical error, c) clarify and reduce the particulars which the Registrant faces. Mr Foxsmith invited the Panel to allow the changes as these could be made without injustice to the Registrant. He indicated that they do not materially change the Allegation towards the Registrant and further, the Registrant had been put on notice that this application would be made.  The Registrant has raised his own thoughts on an amendment which had been taken into account by the HCPC. 

7. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor, who advised that it was open to the Panel to amend the Allegation, provided that no injustice would be caused. The Panel considered that the amendments sought were minor and did not change the substance of the Allegation. The amendments served to clarify the Allegation and would not cause injustice. Further, the amendments reduce the scope of the particulars which the Registrant faces. The Panel therefore allowed the amendments to be made. The amended Allegation is as set out above.

Background

8. The Registrant was employed as a Social Care Practitioner with the Adult Social Care Team at Epsom General Hospital (EGH).  He commenced his employment on 10 March 2014.  His job title was a Practitioner Level One (P1), which is a general social worker role.  He was responsible for carrying out assessments on adults, over the age of eighteen, who were being discharged from hospital and who were potentially vulnerable, and in need of services.

9. On 4 March 2015, the Registrant was on the rota as the Duty Worker.  Whilst he was on duty, an Administrator brought a safeguarding concern to the Registrant and put it into the Duty Tray.  The Registrant finished his shift at 1700 hrs, but he did not progress the safeguarding concern, nor bring it to the attention of the person who was working on the late shift.

10. On 5 March 2015, the Duty Worker received a Vulnerable Person Report form from South East Coast Ambulance Services (SECAmb).  The Duty Worker identified that the Registrant was the allocated practitioner and she forwarded the concern to him in an email.  She requested that the Registrant carry out an assessment; the Registrant did not do anything to progress this matter at all.

Decision on Facts

11. The Panel applied the principles that the burden of proving the facts is on the HCPC, that the Registrant does not have to prove anything and that the case is only to be decided on the evidence before it.  The Panel heard from the following, who all gave live evidence, under oath: Witness 1: Investigating Officer, Witness 2: Social Worker, Practitioner 1, Witness 3: Social Care Assistant. All witnesses appeared credible and gave clear answers to the questions that they were asked. They did not speculate when asked for details they could not recall. All gave evidence in a similar vein: they tell a similar tale of the Registrant failing in tasks that he should have been aware of.

Particular 1 is found proven in its entirety

12. Witness 1 gave evidence that he had interviewed the Registrant. During the interview, the Registrant indicated that the Safeguarding Alert had been received when he was out of the office on a late lunch break.  The Registrant had said that he had had a full and busy day, and nobody alerted him to the fact that a Safeguarding Alert had been placed in the tray during his absence.  Witness 1 gave evidence that very busy days do exist, and the Registrant would have received training, and known, that a Safeguarding Alert should have been passed onto a colleague if his own shift was due to end before it could be actioned.  While there is some lack of clarity over exactly when the fax arrived, given that it has a time of 1722 hrs on it, this is set against the evidence of Witness 3, who gave evidence that he recalled the Alert being placed into the duty tray, which was placed between his desk and the Registrant’s, by the administrator who drew the Registrant’s attention to it.  Witness 2 gave evidence that she saw the Registrant leaving the office at 1700 hrs on this day, which is admitted by the Registrant.

13. The Registrant made partial admissions.  He accepted that he should have looked at the tray before he left for the day at 1700 hrs, if only to ensure that there was no outstanding work and any outstanding work had been passed to a colleague on the next shift, commencing at 1700 hrs.  He did not do this. The Panel had evidence that Safeguarding Alerts take priority over all other work, and the Registrant knew this. The Panel finds this matter proved. 

Particular 2 is found proven in its entirety.

14. Witness 1 gave evidence about Vulnerable Person Reports, which are reports that reference a vulnerable person who is in need of care. Safeguarding Alerts are specific reports, where someone from initial contact suspects that a person had suffered, or is at risk, of harm or abuse. While the terms are used interchangeably and fluidly, they reference similar concerns, and require action to be taken or be passed onto another professional to address. Investigations may need to be undertaken to see what the circumstances involve and alternative action may be recommended instead. 

15. Witness 1 gave evidence that paramedics from SECAmb had attended Service User B at his home on 25 February 2015. Service User B was subsequently admitted to hospital. On that same date, the paramedics completed a Vulnerable Person Report because they had concerns that Service User B’s property presented a fire hazard.

16. Service User B was discharged from hospital on 27 February 2015. On 5 March 2015, the Duty Officer received the Vulnerable Person Report and forwarded it to the Registrant by email. The email informed the Registrant that it was not a safeguarding alert, but that Service User B “would require assessment of care needs on discharge from hospital”.

17. On 21 April 2015, both Service User B and his son, who lived with him and had learning difficulties, were admitted to hospital following a fire at their home. Service User B’s son had suffered light burns to his hair as a result.

18. Witness 1 told the Panel that, following his investigation into the incident, it became clear that the Registrant had not acted when he had received the email on 5 March 2015. Witness 1 said that the Registrant should have checked whether an assessment had taken place and/or forwarded the email to the appropriate team.

19. The Registrant submitted that upon receiving the email, it was likely that he would have spoken to either the duty team or the appropriate locality team. He had not recorded such a conversation and admitted that he was wrong not to have done so.

Decision on Grounds

20. The Panel considered the submissions made, the legal advice, and guidance that exists on misconduct.  Mr Foxsmith submitted that the Registrant’s actions clearly amount to misconduct in terms of some act or omission which falls short of what would be proper in the circumstances.  It was submitted that the standard of propriety may often be found by reference to the rules and standards ordinarily required to be followed by a practitioner and reference was made to both the Standards of Proficiency for Social Workers and the HCPC Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics.

21. The Panel found that the Registrant has breached the HCPC Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics, particularly:

1. You must act in the best interests of service users;

7. You must communicate properly and effectively with service users and  other practitioners;

22. Further, that the Registrant has also breached the following Standards of Proficiency for Social Workers:

1.3 be able to undertake assessments of risk, need and capacity and respond appropriately

1.4 be able to recognise and respond appropriately to unexpected situations and manage uncertainty

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

9.6 be able to work in partnership with others, including those working in other agencies and roles

23. In considering statutory grounds, the Panel considered the failings of the Registrant. The Registrant has not admitted misconduct in respect of those parts of the Allegation which he admitted, but the Panel has considered both the particulars separately within the Allegation in considering the statutory ground.  It found that the first particular of the Allegation was more serious than the second, but that both particulars individually and collectively amounted to misconduct, such was the extent of the Registrant’s failings.

Decision on Impairment

24. The HCPC submitted that there was little evidence to show that the Registrant understood the extent of his failings and the impact these could have had on vulnerable service users. The HCPC also submitted that there was no evidence that the Registrant had remedied his failings. Aside from some admissions, most of which were qualified, the Panel may question how much insight the Registrant showed.

25. The Panel is of the view that twice in close succession, the Registrant had acted in a manner that meant that service users about whom concerns had been raised had not been dealt with appropriately.  

26. The Panel considers that the Registrant has shown remorse, and noted that the Registrant had caring responsibilities at the time but that he has not yet demonstrated full insight into the impact his failings could have had on service users, colleagues and public trust and confidence in the profession.

27. The failings are remediable, but the Registrant had provided the Panel with limited evidence as to why these failings arose and how he has addressed them in order to ensure that they are not repeated. The Panel therefore considers that there is a risk that other lapses may occur in the future.

28. Having regard to the critically important public policy issues, in the Panel’s assessment the Registrant’s current fitness to practise remains impaired. Confidence in the profession of Social Workers will be undermined as members of the public would be concerned about the failure to behave in a way that prioritises safeguarding concerns raised about vulnerable individuals. Unnecessary harm could be caused to those who have been identified as needing action to be taken for their protection. The public is entitled to expect registrants to behave in a professional manner that prioritises safety. There is a need to maintain confidence in the profession, to declare and uphold proper standards, and to maintain confidence in the regulatory process.

29. Accordingly the Council’s case is well founded.

Decision on Sanction

30. In considering what sanction, if any, to impose, the Panel has taken account of the submission made by Mr Foxsmith on behalf of the HCPC and the representations provided by the Registrant in writing, as well as the advice of the Legal Assessor.  It has also considered the HCPC’s “Indicative Sanctions Policy” in arriving at a decision.

31. Mr Foxsmith submitted that the decision on what sanction, if any, to be imposed is a matter for the Panel.  However, he submitted that it would be inappropriate for this case not to be marked with a sanction of some kind, given the Panel’s findings that the Registrant has not demonstrated full insight into the nature and effect of his lapses.

32. The Registrant had not presented formal submissions on sanction despite providing detailed material on the particulars of the Allegation and the background circumstances regarding his working environment.  The Registrant indicated that he was looking forward to working again as a Social Worker.

33. In considering the appropriate sanction in this matter, the Panel has had regard to its earlier findings.  In view of the seriousness of the case, to take no further action would not be appropriate as it fails to address the serious issues raised which include failing to progress a Safeguarding Alert.

34. The imposition of a Caution Order was discounted because it does not fully address the Registrant’s breach of professional standards and lack of full insight. Also, the Panel considered that a more serious sanction was necessary to protect the public, maintain confidence in the profession and maintain confidence in the regulatory process.

35. The Panel went on to consider the imposition of a Conditions of Practice Order and considered the same to be appropriate as there are verifiable, realistic and measurable conditions of practice which could address the failings identified. It considered both mitigating and aggravating features.  In terms of mitigation:

• the Panel took into account that the two incidents were close in proximity;

• that there was no information that there have been other events in his career where there have been failings;

• that there was a particularly busy office environment in which the Registrant worked;

• that no actual harm had been directly caused to service users by his failings;

• the Panel accepted that the Registrant had demonstrated some insight in admitting some mistakes.

36. Aggravating factors include the facts that:

• the Registrant has not evidenced the undertaking of any significant remedial action in the two years since leaving EGH;

• there were simple steps he could have taken to prevent both failings;

• potentially his failings could have had very serious consequences;

• there was a general consensus among witnesses that safeguarding issues were required to be prioritised.

37. Without having any real explanation for the Registrant’s failings, the Panel cannot be confident that there is no longer a risk that standards might slip in the future in similar circumstances.  

38. In the light of the above considerations and the circumstances of this case, the Panel determined that a Conditions of Practice Order would suffice to protect the public and the public interest. It would provide the Registrant with an opportunity to further engage with the process and to demonstrate full insight into his misconduct, whilst protecting the public and the public interest by requiring compliance with conditions.

39. The Panel did go on to consider whether a period of suspension would be appropriate in this case. However, taking into account the mitigating factors in this case, which involve the Registrant’s apology and admissions, the Panel determined that it would not be a just nor proportionate sanction at this point in time, given the circumstances of this case. The Panel considered this to be a case where the Registrant could re-engage with the process and demonstrate insight and remediation of his misconduct.  Accordingly, this more serious sanction is not appropriate.

40. The order is to last for one year, as this should be a sufficient period to give the Registrant time to develop full insight to assist his future practice. Public confidence will be addressed by the element of supervision the conditions include. This Order will be reviewed before it expires.

Order

That the Registrar be directed to annotate the Register to show that for a period of 12 months from the date that this order comes into effect, Mr Stephen Anthony Arthur must comply with the following conditions of practice.

1. You must place yourself and remain under the supervision of a workplace supervisor registered by the HCPC or other appropriate statutory regulator and supply details of your supervisor to the HCPC within 1 month of obtaining relevant employment. You must attend upon that supervisor as required and follow their advice and recommendations. This could be within or outside the context of Social Work.

2. You must promptly inform the HCPC if you cease to be employed by your current employer or take up any other or further employment.

3. You must promptly inform the HCPC of any disciplinary proceedings taken against you by your employer.

4. You must inform the following parties that your registration is subject to these conditions:

A. any organisation or person employing or contracting with you to undertake professional work;

B. any agency you are registered with or apply to be registered with (at the time of application); and

C. any prospective employer (at the time of your application)

5. You must allow your supervisor to provide information to the HCPC about your performance in your post.

6. At least 28 days before this order is reviewed, you must submit to the HCPC a reflective piece demonstrating your understanding of the root causes of your failings, the consequences which might have resulted from your failings and the steps you have taken to identify and mitigate the risks of repetition.

Notes

The order imposed today will apply from 7 March 2017 (the operative date).
This order will be reviewed again before its expiry on 7 March 2018.

Hearing history

History of Hearings for Stephen Anthony Arthur

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
02/02/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing Hearing has not yet been held
06/02/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Conditions of Practice