Miss Portia Tsvangirai

: Social worker

: SW100121

Interim Order: Imposed on 02 Mar 2017

: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing:10:00 01/03/2017 End: 17:00 03/03/2017

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

: Conduct and Competence Committee
: Conditions of Practice

Allegation

Allegation (as amended)

Whilst employed as a Social Worker at Huntercombe Hospital Stafford, you;

1. Provided your bank details to Herefordshire County Council.

2. As a result of providing your bank details to Herefordshire County Council you received financial transactions meant for Person A into your personal bank account on:

a) 03 February 2015

b) 10 February 2015

c) 17 February 2015

d) 24 February 2015

e) 03 March 2015

f) 10 March 2015

g) 17 March 2015
 
3. The matter set out in paragraphs 1 - 2 constitutes misconduct;
 
4. By reason of that misconduct, your fitness to practise is impaired.

Finding

Preliminary matters

1. On behalf of the HCPC, Ms Watts applied to amend the particulars of the allegation. She submitted that the amendments proposed served to clarify the case against the Registrant as brought by the HCPC. In circumstances where the existing particular of the allegation had been admitted by the Registrant, Ms Watts submitted that there would be no prejudice to the Registrant if the amendment was permitted. On behalf of the Registrant, Mr Waldock confirmed that she did not object to the amendment.

2. The Panel agreed to make the amendments requested. It accepted that the purpose and effect of the proposed amendment was to clarify the particulars of the allegation. The proposed amendment did not materially affect the nature of the case against the Registrant and she would not be prejudiced if the amendments were made.

Background

3. The Registrant is a Social Worker. She qualified in September 2014 and began work as a newly qualified Social Worker at Huntercombe Hospital (“the Hospital”) on 3 November 2014. The Hospital is part of the Huntercombe Group, which is an independent care provider.  It provides mental health services to children and young persons aged from 11 to 18 years.

4. At the material time the Registrant worked in, and had responsibilities within the intensive care unit at the Hospital, known as the ‘Hartley’ Unit. Another Social Worker, Witness 1, was also based within the hospital. He worked in, and had responsibility for, the step-down unit, known as the ‘Thorneycroft’ Unit and the eating disorder unit known as the ‘Wedgewood Unit’ was a joint responsibility Witness 1 was a more experienced Social Worker than the Registrant. He conducted her induction and her supervision.

5. The Registrant’s role involved her providing social work support and advice to patients. This included completing applications for benefits to which the patients might be entitled or assisting the patients with their applications. In doing so the Registrant would liaise with local authority Social Workers and personal advisors.

6. Patient A was in the care of the local authority as a ‘looked after child’ and had been admitted to the specialist eating disorder unit at the hospital. Patient A had an allocated personal advisor, Witness 2, who provided her with advice and support. A personal advisor works with a looked after young person and has regard to their education, training, housing and welfare needs. Patient A also had a dedicated local authority Social Worker.

7. Witness 2 had arranged for Patient A to receive payments of £56.25 per week from the local authority’s 16+ team until her 18th birthday. The payments were to begin on 5 October 2014 and end on 27 February 2015, backdated as appropriate.

8. The Registrant was tasked with providing the Herefordshire County Council finance department with details of Patient A’s bank details so that the payments could be made. Patient A did not receive the payments as scheduled and raised the issue with the Registrant. In discussions between the Registrant and Patient A’s personal advisor it emerged that seven payments had been made to the Registrant’s personal bank account from the local authority.

9. The Registrant confirmed that she had supplied the bank account details for the benefit application on behalf of Patient A. The application contained details of the Registrant’s personal bank account rather than details of Patient A’s personal bank account. The Registrant was unable to explain how her account details came to be included on Patient A’s application or how the funds from the local authority came to be in her personal account.

Decision on facts

10. The Panel heard evidence from two witnesses on behalf of the HCPC. Witness 1 was a Social Worker who was based in the hospital and shared an office with the Registrant. Witness 2 was, at the material time, Patient A’s personal advisor. Her evidence confirmed the circumstances in which Patient A’s entitlement to allowances arose and the circumstances in which the payment of sums to the Registrant came to light.

11. The Registrant admitted particulars one and two of the allegation. She therefore did not give evidence in relation to the facts.

12. The Panel carefully considered all of the documents provided by both parties in this case.

13. The Panel has reminded itself that it is for the HCPC to prove the facts which it alleges. The standard of proof is proof on a balance of probabilities.

14. The Panel has determined that particular 1 of the amended allegation is proved by the Registrant’s admission and by the oral evidence of Witness 2.

15. The Panel has determined that particular 2 of the amended allegation is proved by the copies of the Registrant’s personal bank statements which have been adduced in evidence and which clearly demonstrate that relevant payments were made into the account by the local authority on each of the dates alleged. The Registrant’s admission and the oral evidence of Witnesses 1 and 2 support the Panel’s conclusions on this issue.

Decision on grounds

16. The HCPC relies on the statutory ground of misconduct. Ms Watts noted that there was no allegation of dishonesty made in this case. Accordingly, she contended that the issue for the Panel at this stage was to determine whether or not the Registrant’s conduct could properly be described as misconduct.

17. She invited the Panel to take into account evidence that the Registrant should not have been receiving any payments which were intended for service users, even if those payments resulted from a mistake. She reminded the Panel of witness evidence to the effect that a qualified Social Worker ought not to require specific training to know that it was wrong to provide their personal bank account details on an application for benefits for a service user or patient. She submitted that the facts, if found proved, were a serious matter which would cause a reasonably informed observer to be concerned at the Registrant’s conduct. Ms Watts noted that the payments had taken place and gone undisclosed by the Registrant for some weeks.

18. On behalf of the Registrant Mr Waldock submitted that the Registrant had found herself in a difficult situation without adequate training and support. She had made a genuine error whilst seeking to support a young person for whom she had responsibility. He described the incident which brings the Registrant before her regulator as ‘a momentary lapse of concentration’.

19. Before reaching its decision the Panel received and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

20. The Panel notes that ‘misconduct’ is a word of general effect which connotes some act or omission which falls short of what would be proper in the circumstances. It has considered the Registrant’s conduct alongside the evidence as to the standards to be expected of a Social Worker of the Registrant’s experience in a similar situation. The Panel has also had regard to the HCPC “Standards of conduct performance and ethics” (2012) and to the HCPC Standards of proficiency; Social Workers in England 2012.

21. The Panel has concluded that the facts it has found proved do constitute misconduct. Whilst the Registrant’s provision of her personal bank account details was a single act, the payments into her account which resulted took place across a seven week period. Patient A was a vulnerable young person. She was deprived of access to money to which she was entitled during this period and was put to the trouble of trying to find out what had happened to her funds, and lost access to them for a period of time.

22. The Panel considers that any incident which involves the appropriation of the money or property of vulnerable service users is a serious matter. In this case as well as being a looked after child, Patient A was subject to detention under the Mental Health Act.

23. The Panel is satisfied that the Registrant’s conduct amounts to a breach of standards 1, 7 and 13 of the HCPC’s “Standards of conduct performance and ethics.” Standard 1 provides that “You must act in the best interests of service users.” Standard 7 “You must communicate properly and effectively with service users and other practitioners” Standard 13 provides that “You must behave with honesty and integrity to make sure that your behaviour does not damage the public’s confidence in you or the profession.”

24. The Panel is also satisfied that by her conduct the Registrant has breached standards 2.2, 2.3, 2.7 and 3.4 of HCPC “Standards of proficiency; Social Workers in England”.

25. The Panel has concluded that the Registrant’s conduct fell seriously below the standard to be expected of a qualified Social Worker even one who was recently qualified. The Registrant was in a position of trust and authority charged with looking after the interests of a vulnerable young person. She failed to do so and her failure was serious and unacceptable.

Decision on impairment

26. On behalf of the HCPC Ms Watts submitted that the question for the Panel was whether, in the light of the misconduct found proved, the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired. Ms Watts noted that the Registrant maintained that the provision of her own personal bank account details rather than those of Patient A’s personal bank account details, had been an error. Ms Watts observed that the Registrant has never provided any proper explanation of how her error occurred. She submitted that the potential risk to Patient A had been high. Finally, Ms Watts submitted that the Registrant’s consistent apology and her expressions of remorse were too general to demonstrate real insight and were not relevant at the ‘impairment’ stage of the proceedings.

27. On behalf of the Registrant, Mr Waldock reminded the Panel that the test it had to consider related to whether there was current impairment of the Registrant’s fitness to practise.

28. Mr Waldock submitted that the Registrant had demonstrated insight and recognised her limitations by refusing to process benefits applications without appropriate training on her return to work following her suspension. Mr Waldock suggested that there had been no harm to Patient A. He submitted that this was an isolated error which the Registrant had remedied in a timely way. He submitted that, on the evidence, there was no current impairment of the Registrant’s fitness to practise.

29. Before reaching its decision on impairment the Panel read carefully the Registrant’s written statement and considered the material in the hearing bundles and witness statements. The Panel had regard to the submissions made on behalf of both parties and to the HCPC Practice Note on ‘Finding Fitness to Practise Impaired’ to which both representatives directed the attention of the Panel. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

30. The Panel is mindful that its primary task is to ensure the protection of the public. The Panel is concerned that the Registrant does not appear to have undertaken a genuine analysis of what went wrong and how/why it went wrong. The Panel is concerned that without such a ‘root cause analysis’ on her part it is difficult to identify the steps which are necessary to avoid repetition of the misconduct or error. Further, the Registrant does not appear to recognise the importance of engaging in such analysis.

31. The Panel notes that there were a number of warning flags that ought to have alerted the Registrant both to the fact that there was a problem, and to what the nature of that problem was. Nonetheless it took the Registrant some time to take action to ensure that Patient A received her money.

32. The Panel considers that effective remediation would require the Registrant to engage in a more detailed analysis of what happened so that she could take steps to alter her behaviour to ensure that in the same or similar circumstances, there could be no repetition of her misconduct. The Panel does not consider that the Registrant’s resignation from her employment or her refusal to undertake benefits processing without training, address the concerns raised in this case. These steps do not provide reassurance that the risk of repetition of misconduct is low because there is no evidence that a lack of training was responsible for the misconduct found proved.

33. The Panel has found that the Registrant’s misconduct was serious and that Patient A suffered a detriment as a result of it.

34. In these circumstances the Panel is unable to conclude that this was an isolated error on the Registrant’s part or that the risk of repetition of her misconduct is low.

35. The Panel has therefore concluded that there is impairment of the Registrant’s fitness to practise in relation to both the personal and the public components.

36. A finding of current impairment of the Registrant’s fitness to practise is necessary to ensure that public confidence in the regulatory process is maintained and proper standards are upheld. The Panel is quite satisfied that the public would expect the Regulator to hold to account a Social Worker who received payments intended for a vulnerable service user into their own personal bank account, even if that Social Worker were newly qualified. The standards of conduct, performance and ethics at issue are fundamental to the profession. A Social Worker should not require training to understand that to do so, as this Registrant has done, is wrong.

Decision on sanction

37. Before reaching its decision on sanction the Panel listened to the submissions made on behalf of the parties, considered the HCPC’s Indicative Sanctions Policy and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

38. The Panel reminds itself that the primary function of any sanction is to address public safety from the perspective of the risk the Registrant may pose to those who need her services.

39. In reaching its decision as to the appropriate sanction the Panel has sought to identify a sanction which addresses all of the relevant facts which led to its finding of current impairment of fitness to practise. It has tried to balance the interests of the Registrant against the wider public interest. The Panel has applied the principle of proportionality.

40. The Panel acknowledges that it is not obliged to impose a sanction notwithstanding its conclusion that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired. However, it has concluded that the nature of the Registrant’s misconduct, her incomplete insight and the absence of effective remediation mean that it is appropriate to impose a sanction in this case.

41. The Panel considered whether the imposition of a Caution Order would provide the necessary degree of public protection. The Panel has concluded that a Caution Order, even for the maximum period of five years, does not reflect the seriousness of the Registrant’s misconduct nor does it address her lack of insight or the risk of recurrence. A Social Worker dealing with the financial matters on behalf of a vulnerable person is involved with a sensitive matter which requires particular care. The Registrant had opportunities to disclose and rectify her error which she did not initially recognise or take. Patient A suffered a detriment as a result of the Registrant’s misconduct.

42. The Panel next considered a Conditions of Practice Order. The Panel is satisfied that the Registrant’s misconduct is capable of being remedied. There is no evidence before it of a persistent or general failure which would prevent the Registrant from remaining in practice. Although the evidence available to the Panel is limited, the Panel considers that appropriate, realistic and verifiable conditions can be formulated and the Registrant can be expected to comply with them.

43. As indicated above, the Registrant has some insight in to her misconduct. She admitted the factual particulars of the allegation and has expressed remorse and offered apologies to those affected by her misconduct. It appears to be one incident albeit that it had consequences which persisted for a period of time.

44. On balance the Panel has determined that a Conditions of Practice Order is the proportionate response to the Registrant’s misconduct. The Panel considers that a Conditions of Practice Order for a period of twelve months gives a sufficient period for the Registrant to develop and demonstrate full insight and to effectively remedy her misconduct.

45. The Panel is satisfied that in all the circumstances of this case a Suspension Order would be a disproportionate sanction since the Panel considers a Conditions of practice Order provides sufficient public protection.


 

Order

The Registrar is directed to annotate the Register to show that, for a period of twelve months from the date that this Order comes into effect (“the Operative Date”), you, Portia Tsvangirai, must comply with the following conditions of practice:

1. When working as a Social Worker 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 14 days of the Operative Date. You must attend upon that supervisor at least monthly and follow their advice and recommendations.

2. You must maintain a reflective practice profile detailing every occasion when you provide service users with financial advice or otherwise assist with the administration of their finances. You must provide a copy of that profile signed by your workplace supervisor to the HCPC two months before this Order is due to end or for consideration at an application for early review.

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

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

5. 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).

 

Notes

An Interim Conditions of Practice Order to mirror the conditions above was imposed to cover the appeal period.

Hearing history

History of Hearings for Miss Portia Tsvangirai

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
01/03/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Conditions of Practice