Annie Reed

: Social worker

: SW91654

: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing:10:00 27/02/2017 End: 17:00 02/03/2017

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

: Conduct and Competence Committee
: No further action

Allegation

While employed as a Social Worker for Kent County Council, between approximately 27 January 2014 and 30 August 2015:

 

1. You did not act responsibly and/or in the best interests of Service Users when:

 

a. you undertook paid work in a secondary job at Hartley House Care Home on a 36 hour fixed term contract of 12 hour night shifts over Friday, Saturday and Sunday's, and

 

i. you worked additional night shifts during this time as overtime

 

b. you did not inform Kent County Council of your secondary employment

 

2. Your actions at 1b were dishonest.

 

3. The matters set out in paragraphs 1 and 2 constitute misconduct.

 

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

Finding

Preliminary matters:

Amendment of Allegation

1.Ms Sheridan, on behalf of the HCPC, applied to amend the Allegation.  She submitted that the amendments were consistent with the evidence before the Investigating Committee, and they served to better particularise the Allegation.

2.Ms Berry, who had prior notice of the application, on behalf of the Registrant, did not object to the amendment.

3.The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel considered that the amendments served to clarify the Allegation by better particularising it, and would not cause injustice. The Panel therefore allowed the amendments to be made. The amended Allegation is as set out above.

4.The Panel, of its own volition, also considered whether these matters were ‘under-charged’ in relation to the secondary employment. Ms Sheridan told the Panel that the matter of dishonesty in relation to the secondary employment had been considered and the HCPC was satisfied that there was no case to answer in relation to that matter, bearing in mind the evidence of its own witnesses.  Ms Berry concurred. The Panel, having given the matter consideration, was content not to take any further action in this regard. 


Proceeding in private

5.The Panel heard that matters relating to the Registrant’s personal and private family life were to be discussed during the hearing. Ms Berry applied for those parts of the hearing concerning the Registrant’s private life be heard in private.  Ms Sheridan agreed that it was appropriate that parts of the hearing be held in private when issues in the Registrant’s private life were to be discussed. The Panel accepted the Legal Assessor’s advice and it noted Rule 10(1)(a) of the Health and Care Professions Council (Conduct and Competence Committee) Procedure Rules 2003 (“Procedural Rules”) whereby matters pertaining to the private life of the Registrant, the complainant, any person giving evidence or of any Patient or Client may be heard in private. The Panel agreed the parts of the hearing, where reference would to be made to the Registrant’s private life, should be heard in private.


Background:

6.The Registrant was employed by Kent County Council (“KCC”) as a Social Worker starting 7 October 2013 and her hours were 8.30 am to 5.00 pm, Monday to Friday. The Registrant took on secondary employment at Hartley House Care Home, where she was employed in a non-Social Worker role starting on 27 January 2014.  Her role at Hartley House was to undertake night shifts of 12 hours on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. On occasions, she undertook other night shifts at Hartley House in addition to her contracted hours.

7. On a significant number of occasions the Registrant worked at Hartley House during the night, and then went straight to her role as a Social Worker without sleep, or reasonable respite.  There were occasions when this occurred over consecutive days amounting to, in effect, almost 72 hours of continuous working without reasonable respite.

8. The Registrant did not advise her line managers at her primary employer, KCC, of her secondary employment at Hartley House although she did advise Hartley House of her employment at KCC. 

9. In September 2015, it came about that Hartley House contacted KCC about the Registrant and advised that she was working night shifts for them.  This information led to a disciplinary investigation by KCC.
 
10. When asked about these matters at the first disciplinary interview on 7 October 2015, the Registrant denied that she worked at KCC after working the night shift at Hartley House. However, she made full admissions in the second disciplinary interview on 23 October 2015.

11. These matters were subsequently referred to the HCPC.


Decision on Facts

12. At the start of proceedings, the Registrant admitted factual Particulars 1(a)(i), 1(b), and 2. The Registrant had indicated her intended admission on the signed document entitled “NOTICE TO ADMIT FACTS” that was signed by her on 30 January 2017.

13. The Panel had before it, the HCPC’s evidence in the form a bundle of statements and a bundle of documentary evidence. The Panel also heard from the Registrant on oath in relation to these matters and received her documentary evidence.

14. The Panel finds the factual particulars 1(a)(i), 1(b) and 2 proved by way of the evidence and  the Registrant’s admissions.


Decision on Grounds:

15. The Panel heard evidence from the Registrant on oath. It noted the answers she gave in response to questions asked of her by both advocates, and it also asked her questions.

16.The Panel heard submissions from Ms Sheridan on behalf of the HCPC.

17. Ms Sheridan submitted that Misconduct was the appropriate statutory ground to be applied in this case. She submitted that the Registrant had breached the following paragraphs of the HCPC’s standards of conduct, performance and ethics: 1, 3, 7, and 13.

18. Ms Sheridan further submitted that the Registrant had also breached the following paragraphs of the HCPC’s standards of proficiency for Social Workers: 1.2, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, 2.10, 3.2, 8.2, and 15.1.

19. Ms Berry informed the Panel that her client accepted that her actions were serious enough to amount to misconduct for the purposes of these proceedings.

20. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel reminded itself that there is a two-stage process in relation to impairment by reason of lack of competence and/or misconduct. The Panel recognised that it must first consider whether, on the facts found proved, the Registrant’s behaviour constituted misconduct, and secondly, if applicable, whether her fitness to practise is currently impaired by reason of that misconduct.

21.The Panel exercised its own judgement in determining the issue before it. In considering the Registrant’s fitness to practise, the Panel reminded itself of its duty to protect service users, and of its wider duty to protect the public interest, which includes the declaring and upholding of proper standards of conduct and behaviour, and the maintenance of public confidence in the profession and the regulatory process.

22. The Panel considered that on the facts found proved the Registrant had breached the following paragraphs of the HCPC’s standards of conduct, performance and ethics:

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

23. The Panel also determined that the Registrant had breached the following paragraphs of the HCPC’s standards of proficiency for Social Workers:

1.2 recognise the need to manage their own workload and resources and be able to practise accordingly.
2.2 understand the need to promote the best interests of service users and carers at all times
3.2 understand the importance of maintaining their own health and wellbeing
11.2 recognise the value of supervision, case reviews, and other methods of reflection and review
12.1 be able to use supervision to support and enhance the quality of their social work practice
15.1understand the need to maintain the safety of service users, carers and colleagues

24. The Panel was aware that misconduct is “a word of general effect, involving some act or omission, which falls short of what would be proper in the circumstances.” It is also aware that it was stressed that Misconduct is qualified by the word “serious”. It is not just any professional misconduct, which will qualify.

25. The Panel was aware that not every instance of falling short of what would be proper in the circumstances, and not every breach of the HCPC standards would be sufficiently serious to amount to misconduct in this context. Therefore, the Panel has had careful regard to the context and circumstances of the matters found proved.

26. The Panel considered the following mitigating factors:

(a) the Registrant was a Newly Qualified Social Worker at the time.
(b) it is accepted by the parties that the Registrant did not receive an induction on appointment to KCC as a result of which she was not made aware of relevant KCC policies and procedures. 
(c) there was a lack of consistent managerial oversight and supervisory support, which any employed Social Worker should receive, but which this Registrant in particular should have received as part of her Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE). This normally commences at the start of a Newly Qualified Social Worker’s first year in employment, but the Registrant did not start her ASYE until almost a year later when Mr K became her line manager. He confirmed that he was responsible for the Registrant from late 2014, and it was he who started the Registrant’s official ASYE. 
(d) there was no evidence of any issues in the Registrant’s practice at that time.
(e) the personal circumstances prevailing at the time in the Registrant’s private life were exceptional, were not of her making and had created a significant financial burden on her that she had sought to alleviate by taking the second job.

Particular 1

27. In relation to Particular 1, the Panel has concluded that the Registrant was not acting responsibly or in the best interest of service users. Her conduct was over a period of 21 months, wherein she repeatedly, and on a significant number of occasions, worked a day shift at Kent County Council immediately following a night shift at Hartley House. This included a number of occasions when she worked approximately 72 hours without meaningful respite between consecutive  shifts at KCC and Hartley House. Whilst there was no evidence of actual harm to any service user being caused by the Registrant’s conduct, there was the potential for a risk of harm in her practice as a Social Worker.   Her role as a Social Worker included the exercise of professional judgement in making risk assessments and other assessments concerning the protection and welfare of children as well as on occasions driving them in her car. 

28. Notwithstanding the mitigating circumstances, the Registrant did not explore other possible avenues to address her personal circumstances including accessing the support and assistance of family and friends, support that has subsequently been made available to her.  Furthermore, after Mr K became her line manager in December 2014 and provided her with positive supportive management, she did not fully inform him of the difficulties she faced, in particular that she had a second job. As a result Mr K was unable to assist her in managing the situation, nor was he able to manage any risk to the service users, or to the reputation of the Council. The Panel considered that Particular 1 was serious enough, in the circumstances, to amount to misconduct for the purposes of these proceedings.

29. The Panel makes it clear that it does not consider it wrong for a Registrant to have a secondary job provided the taking of a second job is appropriately managed with the primary employer. What was wrong in these circumstances was the fact the Registrant failed to recognise the wider risks inherent in her conduct, did not exercise sound judgement in taking the second job, and as a result, she was not acting responsibly or in the best interests of the service users, for whom she was responsible as a Social Worker.

30. In these circumstances, the Panel concluded that the facts of Particular 1 amount to misconduct.
Particular 2

31. Lying to a manager in the context of a disciplinary interview is inherently serious. The Panel took into consideration that the Registrant was distressed and anxious at the time. It accepted that she panicked at the time of the first interview, which is when she was first made aware of the requirement to inform KCC about any secondary employment, and that her lie was a denial that she had worked night shifts immediately prior to her day shifts at Kent County Council. She did not mitigate her conduct by returning with the truth prior to the second interview, which the Registrant had requested. The Panel accepts that she did make full admissions at the second interview but notes, that this was only after she had been confronted with documentary evidence of her working hours at Hartley House.
 
32. The Panel was satisfied that in the circumstances, her conduct as set out in Particular 2 was serious enough to amount to misconduct for the purpose of these proceedings.

Particular 3

33. The Panel accepts that the dishonesty of the Registrant in this case was her ‘knee-jerk’ denial that she worked consecutive shifts at Hartley House and KCC. However, that was in the context of a disciplinary interview. Notwithstanding that she subsequently made full admissions in the second interview, this particular is sufficiently serious so as to amount to misconduct for the purposes of these proceedings.

34. Accordingly the Panel finds that the facts found proved amounted to the statutory ground of misconduct.


Decision on Impairment:

35. The Panel went on to consider, on the basis of the matters found proved, whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired by reason of her misconduct. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

36. The Legal Assessor drew the Panel’s attention to the test set out in the case of CHRE v NMC and Grant (2011) EWHC 927 (Admin), and advised the Panel that there were personal and public components when considering whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired.

37. For this purpose, the Panel adopted the approach formulated by Dame Janet Smith in her fifth report of the Shipman inquiry by asking itself the following questions:
“Do our findings of fact in respect of the Registrant’s misconduct show that her fitness to practise is impaired in the sense that she:
a) has in the past acted and/or is liable in the future to act so as to put service users at unwarranted risk of harm; and/or
b) has in the past brought and/or is liable in the future to bring the social work profession into disrepute; and/or
c) has in the past breached and/or is liable in the future to breach one of the fundamental tenets of the social work profession?”

38. The Panel considered the submissions made by Ms Sheridan on behalf of the HCPC that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired and also those made by Ms Berry on behalf of the Registrant. Ms Berry submitted that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is not currently impaired. The Panel also took into account the documentary evidence provided.

39. The Panel was aware that any finding as to impairment was for the independent judgement of the Panel and that what was to be assessed was the Registrant’s current fitness to practise.

40. The Panel concluded that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is not currently impaired on the personal component. Its reasons are as follows:

(a) The Registrant was a Newly Qualified Social Worker at the time;
(b) The Registrant has demonstrated clear insight into the shortcomings in her conduct in this case. This is evidenced by emails to the HCPC, her full and frank witness statement, and the answers she gave when questioned by the advocates and the Panel. She has demonstrated, to the satisfaction of the Panel, that she understood the wider ramifications of her misconduct in relation to the amount to work she was undertaking, and she is very unlikely to repeat her error of misjudgement and mishandling of any future personal difficulties impacting on her work;
(c) The Panel was also satisfied that she now fully understood that she had been wrong to lie in the way that she did during the first disciplinary interview;
(d) These proceedings have been a salutary lesson, and the Registrant is very unlikely to tell a lie in similar circumstances.
(e) There has been no repetition of the Registrant’s misconduct, nor were there any concerns about her practice. 

41. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant is not likely to repeat her misconduct and is therefore not liable in future to put service users at risk of harm, nor is she liable in future to bring the profession into disrepute, nor is she liable to breach a fundamental tenet of the profession.

42. Therefore, the Panel is satisfied, insofar as the personal component of impairment is concerned, that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is not currently impaired.

43. However, the Panel considered that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired on the public component. The Panel determined that these matters were such that the need to uphold proper professional standards and public confidence in the profession would be undermined if a finding of impairment were not made in the particular circumstances.

44. These matters relate to the Registrant working night shifts and then immediately going on to her role at KCC as a Social Worker. This meant that she was very likely to have compromised her capacity to make appropriate professional decisions regarding her caseload. Whilst the Panel heard that there were no issues with her practice, and her manager confirmed this in his statement, there is always an inherent risk in such circumstances, that a mistake might be made. As she acknowledged her role was to protect the safety and wellbeing of children and her behaviour in fact compromised her ability to protect them. The failure to avoid, minimise or manage the risk appropriately, makes the risk unwarranted.

45. The Registrant’s dishonesty related to her denial in a disciplinary interview that she had not worked consecutive shifts. The Panel accepted that in the circumstances, it was a ‘knee-jerk’ answer because the Registrant panicked and was under significant stress and was distressed. It is not the most serious case of dishonesty. However, the proper professional standard to be declared must be that a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction must be to tell the truth, as opposed to a lie.

46. For all the reasons that are set out above the Panel has concluded that the need to uphold proper professional standards and public confidence in the profession required a finding of impairment in these particular circumstances.

47. Accordingly, the Panel determined that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired on the public component.


Decision on Sanction:

48. The Panel heard the submissions of Ms Sheridan and Ms Berry with regard to sanction.
 
49. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.  The Panel had regard to all the evidence presented, and to the Council’s Indicative Sanctions Policy (ISP). The Panel reminded itself that a sanction is not to be punitive although it may have a punitive effect. The Panel bore in mind the principles of fairness and proportionality when determining what the appropriate sanction, if any, in this case should be.

50. This is a case where the public interest alone required that there be a finding of impairment. The Panel bore in mind that the starting point at this stage, as set out in the ISP, is to consider whether a sanction is in fact required in this case. It also bore in mind that if it did decide that a sanction was required, then the sanction to be imposed must be the least restrictive that would meet the need to uphold proper professional standards and public confidence in the profession.

51. The Panel considered that there were aggravating features in this case:

(a)The Registrant did not pursue other avenues of support that might have been available to her, through friends and family, before taking on the second employment.
(b)She did not engage with her managers to ensure that any risk that might have arisen were appropriately considered. The Panel recognises that she experienced limited and inconsistent management support, but that this came to an end in December 2014 when Mr K was appointed some nine to ten months before matters came to light.
(c)Her second employment caused her on occasions to work 12-hour night shifts before undertaking her primary work at KCC. At times, this would have occurred over consecutive days with the inherent risk to the quality of her work as a Social Worker with a responsibility for protecting vulnerable children.
(d)The situation continued for approximately 20 months.
(e)Matters only came to light when her second employers contacted KCC.

52.The Panel considered there were compelling mitigating factors in this case:

(a) The Registrant has consistently demonstrated considerable insight and remorse from very early on in these regulatory proceedings. The Panel has also been able to observe the Registrant during the hearing, and regards her insight and remorse as wholly genuine.
(b) There was no evidence of any harm to service users.
(c) The Registrant was a Newly Qualified Social Worker at the time, and therefore, with limited professional experience. For the first period of her work, which was a critical period, she had limited and inconsistent management support.
(d) Secondary employment was not forbidden by the KCC’s policy.
(e) It was clear from the evidence that she did not receive a proper induction and was not aware of the KCC’s policy in relation to a second employment. Her lie occurred when she was first told about the KCC’s policy, and she was evidently very distressed at the time.
(f) Whilst the Panel noted she did not mitigate her conduct by returning with the truth prior to the second interview, it is clear she had requested the second interview shortly after the first interview. The Panel accepted her explanation that she requested a second interview so that she could ‘come clean’ and also talk openly and privately with her employers about all the issues in her private life.
(g) The Registrant’s lie was at the very low end of the spectrum of dishonesty. The nature of her lie was not to cover up an on-going risk to service users, or even to enable her to continue in her second employment. At that time she had already resigned from her secondary employment, her lie was not a calculated deception but a ‘knee jerk’ reaction.
(h) Her failure to act responsibly and in the best interests of service users, occurred at a time when she was facing a particularly acute combination of very serious difficulties in her personal life that combined to create a significant financial difficulty which was not of her own making.
(i) The Panel accepted that she was a deeply private person, who sought to cope with the situation on her own out of a deep sense of personal responsibility and caring for her family. The Panel concluded that her motivation was wholly selfless.
(j) These circumstances resulted in her misjudgement in not seeking the help of others nor engaging her managers.
(k) The various references provided by the Registrant, which included references given by managers at KCC, are overwhelmingly positive. They are also evidence that the Registrant has made a positive impact on the service users she has worked with, before and since these matters came to light.
(l) The Panel noted the fact that KCC has continued to employ the Registrant, albeit in an unregistered role of a social work assistant. There is evidence that she is regarded as having significant potential as a Social Worker.
(m) The evidence of the Registrant, her on-going CPD, and her continued work at KCC, demonstrates her commitment to the profession. The Panel has concluded that she has a deep sense of vocation.
(n) The Registrant fully engaged with the disciplinary and regulatory processes, with an early admission of misconduct and a sincere apology. Her witness statement for these proceedings shows appropriate reflection, demonstrating considerable insight and remorse.

53. The Panel determined that this was a very unusual case. There are aggravating features: they are limited and have been remediated as regards to the taking of a second job, and the nature and circumstances of the lie put it at the very lowest end of dishonesty. In contrast, there are significant mitigating features as noted above.

54.The purpose of a sanction in this case is to declare and uphold standards in the profession and the maintenance of public confidence in the profession. Neither the public nor professionals should be in any doubt that if a Registrant takes a second employment, it is to be done appropriately and with the engagement of managers so that any risks that might arise, including most particularly any risk to service users, can be properly managed. To do otherwise will be a matter that regulatory panels will take seriously in order to protect service users and the wider public interest.

55.Had there been additional aggravating features in this case, such as a motivation born of financial greed, actual harm to a service user, or a failure to ‘come clean’, this Panel would have given serious consideration to imposing a sanction.

56.As it is, in the wholly exceptional circumstances in which this Registrant found herself, and where she has shown complete insight, has remediated her failings, and presents no risk of repeating her errors of judgement, the Panel is satisfied that the public interest has been met by a finding of impairment. Therefore, the Panel is satisfied that the exceptional course it proposes is appropriate and proportionate in this case. The Panel considers that a Caution Order, or a more severe sanction is not necessary to uphold proper professional standards and public confidence in the profession.

57.The Panel has therefore decided that, for the reasons given above, it will take no further action, and that this matter should be brought to a conclusion.
 

Order


 

Notes

 

Hearing history

History of Hearings for Annie Reed

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
27/02/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing No further action