Mrs Hazel Linda Margaret Bell

: Social worker

: SW40633

Interim Order: Imposed on 16 Jan 2014

: Review Hearing

Date and Time of hearing:12:30 24/02/2017 End: 17:00 24/02/2017

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

: Conduct and Competence Committee
: Struck off

Allegation

The following allegation was considered by a panel of the Conduct and Competence Committee at the substantive hearing on 22 – 25 February 2016.

During the course of your practice as a Social Worker you were employed as a registered manager for Capital Care & Support Ltd, and you: 
1) Made an application to the Care Quality Commission as the ‘nominated individual’ on behalf of Capital Care & Support Ltd, without the consent of the owner.


2) As was discovered in a compliance audit completed on 16 July 2013 you:


a) Did not comply with the Care Quality Commission standards in that:


i. You did not ensure that the CQC had the correct address for CCS as a “Registered Facility”;

ii. Did not ensure that up to date working procedures were in place;


iii. Did not follow adequate recruitment processes.

 
b) Did not take appropriate action in response to allegations of abuse made by service user CN, in that you:


i. Did not conduct any or any adequate investigation into the allegations made by CN;

ii. You did not record adequately and in a timely way your efforts to conduct any or any adequate investigation into the allegations made by CN;


iii. Did not refer the matter to Kent County Council’s Adults Safeguarding Team and Police in a timely way or at all.


c) Did not safeguard service users in that you:


i. Allowed GD, JA, JM, SG, LN and MW to commence employment without undertaking any or any adequate risk assessments to consider information which had been provided from the Disclosure and Barring Services and/or the Criminal Record Bureau;


ii. Allowed PS and DP to commence employment without undertaking any or any adequate risk assessments and/or obtaining DBS or CRB checks;

iii. Did not obtain any or any adequate references from JA, PS, DJ, LN, KW, SH, SHU, CP, UH, JB, HD and AO before allowing them to begin employment as Care Support Workers.


3) Alternatively to the conduct alleged at 2(c)(i)-(iii) you did not record adequately and in a timely way your efforts to:


a) Undertake any or any adequate risk assessments to consider information which had been provided from the Disclosure and Barring Service and/or the Criminal Record Bureau in respect of PS, DP, GD, JA, JM, SG, LN and MW prior to those persons commencing employment;


b) Obtain any or any adequate references from JA, PS, DJ, LN, KW, SH, SHU, CP, UH, JB, HD and AO before allowing them to begin employment as Care Support Workers.


4) Your actions as described in paragraph 1 were dishonest.


5) The matters set out in paragraphs 1 – 4 constitute misconduct and / or lack of competence.

6) By reason of your misconduct and / or lack of competence your fitness to practise is impaired. 

At the substantive hearing on 22 – 25 February 2016 a panel of the Conduct and Competence Committee found all of the above particulars proved bar 2(c)(ii) and 4. The panel found all of the proved particulars amounted to misconduct and the Registrant’s fitness to practise impaired. A Suspension Order for a period of 12 months was imposed as a sanction.

Finding

Preliminary Matters:


1. The Panel has been convened to undertake a review of a Suspension Order imposed for a period of 12 months in respect of the HCPC registration of the Registrant, Mrs Hazel Linda Margaret Bell.

Service/Proceeding in Absence:

2. The Registrant has neither attended this hearing nor been represented at it.  The Panel therefore first considered whether a valid notice of hearing had been communicated to the Registrant.  It concluded that the letter dated 24 January 2017 informing her of this hearing constituted good notice of hearing.

3. After the Panel announced its decision that it found good service of the notice of hearing, the Presenting Officer applied for a direction that the hearing should proceed in the absence of the Registrant.  The Panel acceded to this application for the following reasons:

• It was satisfied that the Registrant had been informed of the hearing by both post and email.  By a letter dated 16 February 2017, the Registrant wrote to the HCPC to say that she would not be attending the review hearing.  The Panel therefore found that she had voluntarily waived her right to attend the hearing.

• There has been no request made by or on behalf of the Registrant that the hearing should be adjourned to another date.

• There is a statutory requirement to hold a review no later than 24 March 2017, and there is no material from which the Panel could conclude that the Registrant would be likely to attend a hearing on another occasion before that date if the present hearing did not proceed.

• By the notice of hearing dated 24 January 2017, the Registrant was informed that she could send written submissions for the purposes of the review hearing. She has not taken the opportunity to make any written submissions.

• For these reasons the Panel has concluded that the clear public interest in the present hearing proceeding outweighed the absence of the Registrant.

Background:

4. The Registrant was employed as a Supervising Social Worker by Capital Care and Foster Limited (“CCF”) between March 2005 and September 2013.  From March 2008 she was also employed as Registered Manager by Capital Care Support Limited (“CCS”), a sister company of CCF.  CCF provided and supported foster carers for children and young people up to the age of 18 years.  Her role with CCF occupied four days of the working week, and in it the Registrant was responsible for the supervision of foster carers who had been approved by CCF.  Her duties included the provision of out of hours support on a rota basis.  Her work with CCS occupied one day a week, and in that post she was responsible for the management of supported accommodation and other services provided to vulnerable adults.  Included in her responsibilities in the CCS role was the management of the Service Supervisor, JB (who was the Registrant’s daughter) and other support staff.

5. In June 2013 an Independent Consultant, a Social Worker by profession, undertook a quality assurance and compliance audit of CCF in order to ensure that the company was complying with the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (“OFSTED”) and Care Quality Commission (“CQC”) requirements.  During her audit the Independent Consultant found evidence of a number of breaches of compliance with Fostering Regulations and National Minimum Standards.  The Independent Consultant also raised a concern over the fact that five out of six members of CCS staff were either related to the Registrant or her close friends.  Very shortly after CCS commenced an audit, the Registrant went on sick leave.  Subsequently, without returning to work, she resigned from her posts.

6. The HCPC’s allegations against the Registrant mirrored the concerns that arose from the audits undertaken, initially by the Independent Consultant, and subsequently by the Registrant’s former employer.  The terms of the allegations are sufficiently clear for them to require no further elaboration here.

7. The final hearing of the HCPC’s allegations against the Registrant took place between 22 and 25 February 2016.  The Registrant did not attend that hearing, although she sent written representations to be considered at the final hearing, and these written representations included testimonials.  The final hearing panel found all the factual particulars to be proved with the exception of particulars 2(c)(ii) and 4 (the latter alleging that her actions at particular 1 were dishonest).  The final hearing panel found that there was no lack of competence demonstrated as the Registrant was aware of the standards expected of her, but failed to adhere to them.  Breaches of both the Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics and of the Standards of Proficiency for Social Workers in England were identified.  The final hearing panel decided that the factual findings amounted to misconduct.  When the final hearing panel turned to consider the issue of current impairment of fitness to practise, it found that the failings it had identified were potentially very serious, in particular the failure to carry out adequate risk assessments on applicants for employment, some of whom were discovered to have been convicted of serious offences, including offences of violence and dishonesty.  The final hearing panel also concluded that, as the Registrant had denied the allegations, there was no evidence before it of remorse or insight, and this in turn meant that, if the Registrant found herself in similar circumstances, there would be a risk of repetition.

8. The sanction imposed by the final hearing panel was the Suspension Order for a period of 12 months currently being reviewed.  In imposing this sanction the final hearing panel stated this:

“The Panel took the view that the failings identified in these proceedings are potentially remediable in the future, but cannot be satisfied that the issues identified have been resolved.  This sanction, in this instance, provides an opportunity for the Registrant to address the deficiencies identified, and to provide evidence of reflection on the findings that have been made.  The Panel concluded that a suspension order of 12 months allowed the Registrant sufficient opportunity to remedy her shortcomings whilst providing an appropriate degree of public protection.”

After advising the Registrant that a future reviewing panel would have available to it the power to impose the ultimate sanction of a striking-off order, the final hearing panel suggested that the following might be of assistance on the review of the order of suspension it was imposing.  The suggestions were made in the following terms:

(a) The Registrant should provide clear evidence of insight into the failings identified in these proceedings.

(b) Evidence of remedial steps which have been taken to address the concerns which have been identified, in the form of a reflective account, addressing the issues of undertaking adequate risk assessments, and safeguarding vulnerable service users.

(c) Evidence of continued and up to date training, and maintaining the necessary knowledge, skills and competence to practise as a Social Worker.

Decision:

9. The Presenting Officer submitted that the fact that the Registrant had not demonstrated for the purposes of this review any insight or remediation meant that, as a minimum, a further period of suspension is required.  However, he submitted that the Panel should consider whether the present circumstances required the imposition of a striking-off order.

10. No information has been submitted to the Panel by or on behalf of the Registrant for the purposes of this review save for her letter dated 16 February 2017 to which reference has already been made.  In this letter she wrote, “…..I know (sic) longer wish my name to remain on the register of Social Workers as I have now retired.”

11. In undertaking this review the Panel has applied the following principles:

• The findings of the final hearing panel made in February 2016 are now settled and not open to be questioned.


• The issue for the present Panel is to decide whether the findings made in February 2016 require the imposition of a sanction when the present period of suspension ends on 24 March 2017.  In making this decision the Panel is not only required to take into account the findings made in February 2016 in relation to the allegations, but also all that has, and has not, occurred in the period between the final hearing in February 2016 and the present time.

• In deciding on the issue of sanction, ordinary sanction considerations apply.  In particular, a sanction is not to be imposed to punish.  Rather, a sanction should be the least restrictive order consistent with the need to protect the public (including potential service users) and to maintain a proper degree of confidence in the registered profession and the regulatory process currently being undertaken.  The fact that there has been a period of suspension for 12 months does not give rise to a presumption that there will be a further sanction, still less that it should be one of a further period of suspension.  If the Panel determines that a further sanction is required, then the available sanctions must be considered in an ascending order of seriousness until one is reached that sufficiently addresses the issues of public protection and the maintenance of confidence just referred to.  The sanction powers available when undertaking a review are those that were available to the preceding panel.  As the sanction of striking-off was available to the final hearing panel, that sanction is available to the present Panel in undertaking this review.


12. The Panel commenced its decision on the review by considering whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is still impaired as a consequence of the finding made by the final hearing panel a year ago.  At the final hearing, it was decided that there was a risk of repetition; there was a lack of insight, remorse and remediation; and the Registrant’s behaviour had damaged public confidence in the profession of Social Work.  The Registrant has not provided any of the information the final hearing panel suggested she might wish to present for the purposes of the review.  In the judgement of the present Panel, the risks identified by the final hearing remain, as do the needs to satisfy the wider public interest and to declare and uphold proper professional standards.  For all these reasons the Panel finds that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is still impaired.


13. The Panel is of the clear view that the findings made against the Registrant by the final hearing panel in February 2016 were very grave indeed.  They had very serious implications with regard to the safety of vulnerable service users and for public confidence in the vital services the Registrant was employed to provide. The finding that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is still impaired requires the imposition of a further sanction as the findings are too serious to result in no action being taken.  For the same reason a caution order is not appropriate. Neither option would provide any protection to the public against the risk of repetition.  A conditions of practice order is not appropriate because it would not be sufficient to address the serious findings made, and also because the Registrant’s stated intention not to work as a Social Worker mean that it would in any event not be possible to formulate workable conditions of practice.


14. The Panel next considered whether it would be appropriate to order a further period of suspension, and in this regard the Panel paid particularly close attention to the guidance offered by the HCPC’s Indicative Sanctions Policy (“ISP”).  There are four reasons why the Panel considered that a further period of suspension would not be appropriate.

• By paragraph 32 of the ISP it is stated that, “Suspension should be considered where the Panel considers that a caution or conditions of practice order would provide insufficient public protection or where the allegation is of a serious nature but unlikely to be repeated and, thus, striking off is not merited.”  This is a case where the finding of a serious nature is coupled with a finding of a risk of repetition.  Accordingly, by the terms of this part of the guidance, a suspension order would not be appropriate.


• By paragraph 34 of the ISP it is suggested, “If the evidence suggests that the registrant will be unable to resolve or remedy his or her failings then striking off may be the more appropriate option [than suspension].”  The Registrant has not resolved or remedied the failings despite being given the opportunity to do so, and in view of her unequivocal indication as to her intentions, she is highly unlikely to resolve or remedy her failings in the future.


• By paragraph 41 of the ISP it is stated, “Striking off should be used where there is no other way to protect the public, for example, where there is a lack of insight, continuing problems or denial.  A registrant’s inability or unwillingness to resolve matters will suggest that a lower sanction [than striking off] may not be appropriate.”  Again, this Registrant lacks insight and there will now be an inability to resolve matters as she no longer wishes to work as a Social Worker.


• Were the Panel to impose a further period of suspension, it would have to be reviewed before it expired.  No benefit arises from further review for a registrant who does not wish to resume a career as a Social Worker.


15. The consequence of these findings is that the conclusion of the Panel is that the making of a striking-off order is the only proportionate sanction in the present circumstances, and this is the Order made by the Panel.

Order

No information currently available

Notes

Order: With effect from the expiry of the current period of suspension, namely with effect from 24 March 2017, the Registrar is directed to strike the name of Mrs Hazel Linda Margaret Bell from the Register. 

Hearing history

History of Hearings for Mrs Hazel Linda Margaret Bell

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
24/02/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing Struck off
22/02/2016 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended
16/01/2014 Investigating committee Interim Order Application Other