Mrs Sonya Wheatley

: Paramedic

: PA13043

Interim Order: Imposed on 08 Mar 2017

: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing:10:00 06/03/2017 End: 17:00 08/03/2017

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

: Conduct and Competence Committee
: Suspended

Allegation

(As amended at Final Hearing):

During the course of your employment as a Paramedic for Yorkshire Ambulance
Service:

1. On 06 April 2015, you:

a. Displayed inappropriate behaviour towards Person A in her mother’s home, in that you asked Person A in an inappropriate tone:

i. “Why did you call emergency services?”, or words to that effect.


ii. “Well are you going to the pharmacy, they will give you a drink or something to sort your mother?”, or words to that effect.

b. Displayed inappropriate behaviour at Harrogate District Hospital, in that you approached Person A and stated:

i. “You reported me, because of you I will be suspended”, or words to that effect.


ii. “I was nothing but professional this morning at your mother’s. I gave you two options. Go to the pharmacy or out of hours”, or words to that effect.

c. Displayed inappropriate behaviour at Harrogate District Hospital in that you guided Person A out of the waiting room, despite Person A’s request to stay with her mother.

2. On 24 September 2015, you attempted to influence the testimony of a witness for your disciplinary hearing.

3. The matters described in paragraphs 1-2 constitute misconduct.

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

Finding

Preliminary matters

Proof of Service

1. On 21 October 2016, the HCPC sent the notice of this hearing by first class post to the Registrant’s registered address. A copy of the notice was also sent to the Registrant by email. The notice contained the required particulars.

2. Having heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor, the Panel was satisfied on the documentary evidence provided, that the Registrant, had been served notice of this hearing in accordance with the Rules.

Proceeding in the absence of the Registrant


3. Ms Williams, on behalf of the HCPC, applied for the hearing to proceed in the Registrant’s absence. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor, who advised that the discretion to proceed in a Registrant's absence should only be exercised with the utmost care and caution.

4. The Panel had regard to the chronology of communications between the HCPC and the Registrant as follows:

a. On 25 October 2015, the Registrant referred herself to the HCPC.
b. On 16 February 2016, the HCPC wrote to the Registrant informing her of the outcome of the Investigating Committee.
c. On 18 April 2016, the HCPC wrote to the Registrant, informing her of its intention to apply to amend the particulars at the start of the Final Hearing.
d. On 21 October 2016, the HCPC sent the Notice of Hearing, by both first class post and email, to the Registrant.
e. On 16 January 2017, the HCPC sent the bundles it would be relying upon at the Final Hearing, under cover of a letter, confirming the date of the Hearing, by recorded delivery, to the Registrant.
f. On 17 January 2017, receipt of the recorded delivery was signed for in the name of Wheatley, according to the track and trace documentation.

5. No communications have been received from the Registrant since she referred herself on 25 October 2015. It follows that the Registrant has not applied for an adjournment, nor has she submitted any representations.

6. The Panel was satisfied that the HCPC had fulfilled its obligations and taken all reasonable steps to serve the notice on the Registrant in accordance with the Rules.

7. The allegations date back 6 April 2015 and 24 September 2015. The Panel was aware that there were two witnesses in attendance to give evidence today (6 April 2017) and a further witness to be called tomorrow (7 April 2017).

8. The Panel therefore concluded that the Registrant had voluntarily waived her right to attend and there was no evidence that she would attend an adjourned hearing. The Panel also considered that it was in the public interest for the hearing to take place.

Application to amend the allegation


9. Ms Williams, on behalf of the HCPC, applied to amend the particulars of the allegation, which had been notified to the Registrant by letter, dated 18 April 2016. She submitted that the amendments corrected the date of particular 1 from 4 April 2015 to 6 April 2015; clarified that the Registrant was alleged to have said the words in particular 1(a) in an inappropriate tone; and better reflected the evidence in respect of how the Registrant was alleged to have dealt with Person A at the A&E Department.

10. Ms Williams submitted that the proposed amendments did not materially change the nature of the allegation, but provided further and better particulars of the allegations against the Registrant.

11. The Panel, having heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor, determined to allow the application to amend in its entirety. It took into account that the proposed amendments had been notified to the Registrant in good time, and no objections had been received from her regarding them. The Panel was of the view that all the proposed amendments can be made without unfairness to the Registrant. They reflect the evidence anticipated to be received according to the witness statements and exhibits previously served on the Registrant and, in the Panel’s view, do not materially change the nature of the particulars.

Background


12. The Registrant was employed as a paramedic at Yorkshire Ambulance Service (YAS) between 29 July 1999 and 21 October 2015. She was responsible for attending on patients as part of the 999 emergency response service.

13. On 6 April 2015, Person A telephoned the NHS “emergency” 111 number for an out of hours doctor, as her elderly and vulnerable mother, Patient A was in pain. At around 09:49, an ambulance crewed by the Registrant and Witness 3, at that time an Emergency Care Assistant, arrived at the home address of Patient A. Person A, the daughter of Patient A was also present. Witness 3 conducted observations on Patient A at around 09:50. Patient A was not conveyed to hospital.

14. It is alleged that during this attendance, the Registrant was rude to Person A and displayed inappropriate behaviour towards Person A, by asking questions in an inappropriate tone, namely questioning why an ambulance had been called, and asking if Person A was going to the pharmacy.

15. After the Registrant and Witness 3 had left the home address of Patient A, Person A re-dialled 111. During her conversation with the 111 call handler, Person A complained about how the Registrant had behaved towards her. As a result of the call to 111, Person A took Patient A to see a doctor at the out of hours clinic located in Harrogate Hospital (the Hospital). Following this consultation, the doctor referred Patient A to the Accident and Emergency Department (A&E) within the Hospital.

16. Later the same day, whilst at the Hospital, the Registrant and Witness 3 were told that a complaint had been made about an ambulance crew. They subsequently realised that the complaint was by Person A and concerned the Registrant.

17. Whilst Patient A and Person A were waiting in A&E, the Registrant and Witness 3 attended the same A&E with a different patient. It is alleged that the Registrant, on seeing Person A, displayed inappropriate behaviour, in that she approached Person A and said words to the effect of ‘You reported me, because of you I will be suspended’ and to the effect that she had been nothing but professional to Person A’s mother that morning. She is also alleged to have displayed inappropriate behaviour by guiding Person A out of the waiting room, despite Person A’s requests to stay with her mother, to a separate waiting area where she continued to speak to Person A about the complaint.

18. Within days of the incident, albeit the exact date is unknown, Person A submitted a written complaint to YAS about the behaviour of the Registrant. Witness 1, was assigned the matter to investigate either at the end of April 2015 or the beginning of May 2015.

19. On 24 April 2015, Witness 3 provided a statement for the investigation. On 1 May 2015, Witness 3 attended a fact finding interview with Witness 1. It is alleged that on 24 September 2015, the Registrant telephoned Witness 3 and attempted to influence his testimony at the forthcoming disciplinary hearing. It is alleged that during the telephone conversation on 24 September 2015, the Registrant told Witness 3 that he had not included certain information in his witness statement, that she would lose her job if the information was not included, and that he had ‘condemned her’.

Decision on Facts


20. The Panel heard evidence from Person A, Witness 1 and Witness 3. Person A described how her mother was unwell and in pain and how she had telephoned her GP surgery. The GP surgery telephone system had an automated reply advising callers to telephone the 111 number, which she did. Witness 3 was, at the time, employed as an Emergency Care Assistant by YAS, and on 6 April 2015 was the crew mate on shift with the Registrant, when they were directed to Patient A’s home address, in response to the emergency call. Witness 1 was employed as an Employee Wellbeing Advisor in the Human Resources Department of YAS. He investigated the complaint submitted by Person A in respect of the Registrant’s conduct on 6 April 2015 and her visit to Patient A’s home address and later at the A&E Department.

21. The Panel also received documentary evidence. This included the initial letter of complaint from Person A, Witness 3’s initial written statement dated 24 April 2015 and the written statement written by the Registrant, dated 24 April 2015. It also included notes of a number of fact finding interviews, which were held with the Registrant, Person A, Witness 3. There were also reports from other members of staff not called to give evidence. It also had a copy of the Management Investigation Report prepared by Witness 1.

22. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel understood that the burden of proving each individual fact rests on the HCPC and that the HCPC will only be able to prove a fact if it satisfies the required standard of proof, namely the civil standard, whereby it is more likely than not that the alleged incident occurred.

23. The Panel found that Person A was a credible and honest witness, who was trying to do her best to assist the Panel. She spoke in favourable terms about Witness 3 and the other health care professionals she came into contact with. It was clear that her recollection was not always perfect, and there were some differences with the evidence of Witness 3. However the Panel found that this was explained by the passage of time, the intensity of the emotion of the occasion and the fact that her primary concern was for her mother. In light of this, the Panel was satisfied that there was no adverse motive or malice on the part of Person A towards the Registrant.

24. The Panel found that Witness 3 was a credible and honest witness, who demonstrated a significant degree of fairness towards the Registrant, in particular by wanting to put the day’s events into perspective, and also to explain the Registrant’s usual positive interactions with patients.

25. The Panel acknowledged that Witness 1 had a limited role, evidentially, as the investigator, rather than someone with first-hand knowledge of events, but found him to be fair and balanced in his evidence.

26. The Registrant did not attend the hearing, but the Panel did not draw any adverse inferences against her from her absence.

27. The Panel acknowledged that the context of the events of 6 April 2015, given by Witness 3, was relevant. He told the Panel that the attendance at Patient A’s home address at 9:46am was the third in a sequence of call outs, in which, on arrival, it emerged that an ambulance was not required. He said that the Registrant had shown some frustration at this, which was targeted at the 111 service and members of the public who used the service. He also said that the 6 April 2015 was a busy bank holiday shift.

Particular 1


 On 6 April 2015, you:
(a) Displayed in appropriate behaviour towards Person A in her mother’s home, in that you asked Person A in an inappropriate tone:
i) “Why did you call emergency services?”, or words to that effect

28. The Panel finds particular 1(a)(i) proved.

29. The Panel was satisfied from the evidence of both Person A and Witness 3 that the Registrant had used words to the effect of ‘Why did you call emergency services?” Witness 3 said that the Registrant had said this on their arrival at Person A’s home, and he had not thought that inquiry was inappropriate, nor was the tone. This was because often information coming to them from the control room was not always accurate, so it was important to ascertain the reason for the call. However, Witness 3 said that the Registrant's tone changed once it emerged that the reason for the call was not chest pain as they had been informed by control, but rather a UTI (urinary tract infection) and that an ambulance had not been required. Witness 3 said she raised her voice. He could not recall what was said at this stage, he had been engaged in taking the observations of Patient A.

30. Person A said that the Registrant had asked her at least three times why she had called an ambulance. She said the Registrant’s voice was loud and sarcastic. Person A was at least given the impression by the Registrant that she was wasting the ambulance crew’s time.

31. The Panel recognised that this was the third call out on a busy day when an ambulance had not been required, however, it was satisfied that the Registrant had repeatedly asked Person A why she had called them. Person A described the Registrant’s tone as ‘loud’ and ‘sarcastic’. Witness 3 described the Registrant’s tone as ‘sharp, loud and aggressive’. It was also clear from the evidence, both from Person A herself and the sequence of events that Person A had complained about the Registrant’s inappropriate behaviour when she rang 111 after the ambulance crew had left. Her complaint was then repeated in her letter sent within days of the incident.

32. The Panel concluded that although the first inquiry of why Person A had called the emergency services would have been appropriate, it was satisfied from the evidence of Person A that the question was asked repeatedly, and from the evidence of both Person A and Witness 3 that it was asked in a loud, sharp, sarcastic and aggressive voice, which was an inappropriate tone. The Panel found that that this was a display of inappropriate behaviour, as the Registrant was a health care professional, she was in a patient’s home and she had allowed her personal frustration at being called to Patient A’s home to lead her to act in this way.

ii) “Well are you going to the pharmacy, they will give you a drink or something to sort your mother?”, or words to that effect

33. The Panel finds particular 1(a)(ii) proved.

34. The Registrant, in her written statement dated 20 April 2015, did not dispute that they (she and Person A) had discussed Person A going to the chemist. Person A in her letter of complaint described references about to going to the pharmacy and that the Registrant’s manner was ‘so loud and unfriendly’.

35. Witness 3 had said that the tone of the exchange between the Registrant and Person A had been up and down in volume for the 10 to 15 minutes which they had been at the address. He also agreed, in answer to Panel questions that he had been embarrassed and felt apologetic at the end of the visit.

36. For the reasons given for particular 1(a)(i), the Panel was satisfied that the Registrant had used an inappropriate tone in her comments about the pharmacy and that this was a display of inappropriate behaviour.

(b) Displayed inappropriate behaviour at Harrogate District Hospital, in that you approached Person A and stated:
i) “You reported me, because of you I will be suspended.”, or words to that effect.

37. The Panel finds particular 1(b)(i) proved.

38. The Panel was satisfied on the evidence of both Person A and Witness 3 that the Registrant had approached Person A in the A&E Department of the Hospital. The Registrant, in her written account, dated 24 April 2015, described herself as approaching Person A. The Registrant describes that she said to Person A: ‘I believe you have put a complaint in about me to get me suspended…’

39. The Panel was satisfied on the evidence of Person A and the Registrant herself that the Registrant had stated words to the effect of ‘You reported me, because of you I will be suspended.’

40. This exchange occurred in an A&E department, with staff and other members of the public around, and who would have been able to hear it. There was evidence that a member of the public had intervened, telling the Registrant that she was behaving unprofessionally in the way that she was speaking to Person A. The Registrant told that person to “sit down” or words to that effect.

41. The Panel was satisfied that it was inappropriate for a health care professional to approach a complainant in such circumstances, and challenge her about what it considered to be a sensitive matter, namely the complaint and its potential consequences for the Registrant.

ii) “I was nothing but professional this morning at your mothers. I gave you two options. Go to the pharmacy or out of hours’, or words to that effect.

42. The Panel finds particular 1(b)(ii) proved.

43. The Panel was satisfied on the evidence of Person A, that the Registrant had said words to the effect of “I was nothing but professional this morning at your mothers. I gave you two options. Go to the pharmacy or out of hours’. The use of such words was consistent with the first part of the exchange, which challenged Person A on why she had made a complaint and effectively was a justification for her behaviour earlier in the day at Person A’s home.

44. The evidence from Person A and Witness 3 was that the Registrant had used a raised voice. Witness 3 had described that, although he did not recollect the words used, the Registrant had been in a confrontational stance, standing over and close to Person A, who was sitting with her mother.

45. For the reasons given for particular 1(b)(i), the Panel was satisfied that this was a display of inappropriate behaviour.

(c) Displayed inappropriate behaviour at Harrogate District Hospital in that you guided Person A out of the waiting room, despite Person A’s request to stay with her mother

46. The Panel finds particular 1(c) proved.

47. The Panel was satisfied on the evidence of Witness 3 and Person A that the Registrant had guided Person A out of the A&E Department. The Registrant in her written statement says she asked Person A to go with her into the foyer. In the fact finding interview of 11 May 2015, the Registrant describes her and Person A as leaving ‘hand in hand’ and that she had ‘offered my arm and she took it and got up and we walked out together.’ Witness 3’s evidence was that they did not walk out hand in hand but that the Registrant had “cusped” her open hand around Person A’s elbow.

48. The Panel accepted the evidence of Person A that she had requested to stay with her mother, saying ‘My Mum, my Mum’, as she did not want to leave her alone in the waiting room and she was concerned that her mother had become agitated because of the Registrant’s behaviour.

49. The Panel concluded from all the evidence that the Registrant had been prompted by the interventions from both the member of public and Witness 3 to move the discussion with Person A to a less public place.

50. It was clear to the Panel that there was no evidence of physical force on the part of the Registrant, however at the time that Person A left A&E with the Registrant, the Panel accepted that Person A went with the Registrant because she wanted the dispute to end and not have it continue in front of her mother as she was becoming agitated. Witness 3 said that he knelt down with Patient A, as she was becoming agitated.

51. The Panel was satisfied that it was inappropriate for a health care professional to guide Person A out of the waiting room of A&E in such circumstances, in order to continue discussions with her about what the Panel considered to be a sensitive matter, namely the complaint and its potential consequences for the Registrant.

Particular 2


On 24 September 2015, you attempted to influence the testimony of a witness for your disciplinary hearing.


52. The Panel finds particular 2 proved.

53. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant had telephoned Witness 3 on 24 September 2015. Witness 3 had, after speaking to a colleague, written notes of what had been said in the conversation between himself and the Registrant.

54. In answer to Panel questions, Witness 3 said that he did not think that the Registrant was trying to get him to alter his account, not least because she would know that he would not. He said she appeared to him to be just airing her frustration. He said that he did not think she was trying to persuade him to say something different.

55. However, the Panel considered the context in which this telephone call occurred. There had previously been the occasion at the Hospital on 6 April 2015, when the Registrant had approached Person A in an attempt to get her to withdraw her complaint. There had also been the fact finding interview on 11 May 2015, at the end of which, the Panel was satisfied that the Registrant would have been told not to make contact with other potential witnesses. The Registrant had not contacted Witness 3 for 6 months. It was when she received the pack of documentation in advance of her disciplinary hearing and which included Witness 3’s witness statement, that she made repeated attempts to call him, and was successful in the evening of 24 September 2015. In this telephone call, she made references to the fact that he had not included certain information, he had ‘condemned’ her and that she would lose her job.

56. The Panel concluded that these references were pejorative and emotive and were made with the intention of seeking to influence the evidence he might give at the disciplinary hearing into Person A’s complaint which was due to be held. The fact that Witness 3 was not open to influence, did not, in the Panel’s view, mean that the Registrant had not attempted to influence his testimony.

Misconduct and Impairment

57. The Panel next considered whether the matters found proved as set out above, amounted to misconduct, and if so, whether by reason thereof, the Registrant's fitness to practise is currently impaired.

58. The Panel considered the submissions made by Ms Williams on behalf of the HCPC. She identified a number of standards which she submitted the Registrant had breached. She also submitted that the facts, if found proved, amounted to misconduct. She submitted that the Registrant's fitness to practise is currently impaired by reason of that misconduct.

59. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel was aware that findings of misconduct and impairment were matters for the independent judgement of the Panel, and that consideration of impairment only arises in the event that the Panel judges that the facts found proved do amount to misconduct and that what has to be determined is current impairment, that is looking forward from today.

Decision on Grounds

60. The Panel considered whether the facts found proved amounted to misconduct and concluded that they did. It considered the cumulative effect of the Registrant’s behaviour on 6 April 2015, both at Patient A’s home address and then later at the A&E Department of the Hospital, and her telephone call to Witness 3 on 24 September 2015.

61. The Panel acknowledged that there were significant demands on the Registrant and Witness 3, particularly as this was a bank holiday weekend, which was usually a busy time, and that they had already attended two call outs where an ambulance was not required, leaving the Registrant frustrated. However, these demands are part of the role of the registered paramedic and would never justify adopting the inappropriate behaviour which the Registrant used in a person’s home and then in a clinical setting. The Registrant had displayed inappropriate behaviour towards Person A both in Patient A’s home and again in the Hospital, both of which, in the Panel’s judgement may adversely affect the public’s view of the profession. In the particular case, the Panel had heard evidence from Person A as to how she had been concerned to call an ambulance the next time she needed one as she was worried about the reaction she would receive.

62. There was also evidence of some harm caused by the Registrant’s behaviour, in that Witness 3 had described Patient A as becoming agitated in the Hospital, when the Registrant was involved in the exchange with Person A.

63. In respect of particular 2, attempting to influence a witness’ testimony, the Panel was of the view that this has the potential to undermine the disciplinary process and the mutual trust required between an employer and the health care professional, and is also contrary to the instructions of the employer not to discuss the case.

64. The Panel was of the view that the Registrant’s conduct had breached the following HCPC standards of conduct, performance and ethics:

• 1 – You must act in the best interests of service users.
• 3 – You must keep high standards of personal conduct
• 7 – You must communicate properly and effectively with service users and other practitioners.
• 13 – You must behave with (….) integrity and make sure that your behaviour does not damage the public’s confidence in you or your profession.

65. In the Panel’s judgement the Registrant’s conduct was, therefore, serious and amounted to misconduct.

Decision on Impairment

66. The Panel had regard to the HCPC Practice Note on Impairment and in particular the two elements of impairment, namely the ‘personal component’ and the ‘public component’.

67. The Panel first considered the ‘personal component’.

68. The Panel was of the view that the Registrant’s conduct was capable of remediation. The Panel had regard to the evidence of Witness 3, which seemed to suggest that the Registrant’s behaviour on 6 April 2015 was out of character and he had alluded to difficulties which the Registrant was experiencing at the time. He had described her usual approach to patients, especially those in palliative care, and to children, to be sympathetic and empathetic and that he admired her approach to such patients as “second to none”. In light of this, the Panel concluded that the Registrant could potentially gain insight into her conduct on 6 April and 24 September 2015, for example through reflection.

69.  However, as the Registrant has not engaged with the HCPC process since her initial self-referral in October 2015, the Panel had no evidence before it that the Registrant had, in fact, reflected on her conduct, accepted that she had acted inappropriately, thought about what steps she would take to ensure that she did not repeat such conduct, or thought about how her conduct may impact upon the confidence of the public in the profession. There was no evidence of an apology, remorse or recognition of the impact of her behaviour on other professionals. In the absence of information from the Registrant as to any explanation for her behaviour at the time or as to her current position, there was no evidence that she has remedied her conduct.

70. The Panel had regard to the notes of the fact finding interview with the Registrant on 11 May 2015, in which she said: ‘On [sic] hindsight I shouldn’t have approached her but at that time I just wanted to get it resolved. I should have just spoken to my bosses’. Whilst this showed some limited insight on the Registrant's part at that time, the Registrant had subsequently attempted to influence a witness’ testimony, which demonstrated poor insight on her part. The Panel had also regard to the fact that it was the Registrant who had self-referred to the HCPC in October 2015. However, this self-referral appeared to have been prompted by a colleague and her apology within it was for the delay in making the referral, rather than for any previous conduct on her part. In the Panel’s view, it did not have before it evidence of insight by the Registrant in respect of her conduct, the impact it did have had on Person A, Patient A, members of the public who were present at A&E and the impact of her conduct on the public confidence in the profession.

71. In all the circumstances, the Panel was of the view that, in the absence of insight there remained a risk of repetition that the Registrant would behave in this way again. It therefore concluded that in respect of the personal component, her fitness to practise is currently impaired.

72. The Panel went on to consider the ‘public component’.

73. In light of the Panel’s conclusion that the conduct was serious, given the risk of repetition of such conduct, together with the fact that the Registrant had significantly upset members of the public on that day, the Panel is of the view that there is a risk of future emotional harm to members of the public. The public would expect the regulator to take action in order to mark that such conduct is unacceptable. The Panel therefore concluded that public confidence in the reputation of the profession would be undermined if a finding of impairment were not made in this case. Similarly, the Panel concluded that professional standards would be undermined if it did not make a finding of Impairment as it is important that the public has confidence that health care professionals will act appropriately, whatever their own personal feelings. Accordingly, in respect of the ‘public component’ the Panel concluded that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired.

Decision on Sanction

74. Having determined that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired by reason of her misconduct, the Panel next went on to consider whether it was impaired to a degree which required action to be taken on her registration by way of the imposition of a sanction.

75. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and it exercised its independent judgement. The Panel had regard to the Indicative Sanctions Policy (ISP) and considered the sanctions in ascending order of severity. The Panel was aware that the purpose of a sanction is not to be punitive but to protect members of the public and to safeguard the wider public interest, which includes upholding standards within the profession, together with maintaining public confidence in the profession and its regulatory process.

76. The Panel first identified what it considered to be the principal mitigating and aggravating factors in this case.

77. Mitigating factors:

• The Registrant had no previous regulatory history with the HCPC, over an extended career as a paramedic;

• The Registrant was otherwise well regarded by her crew member, Witness 3, who provided positive testimony of the Registrant’s usual conduct and who put into perspective the events of 6 April 2015;

• The Registrant’s conduct relates to a single shift on 6 April 2015 and a telephone call on 24 September 2015;

• The Registrant referred herself to the HCPC.

78. Aggravating factors:

• The Registrant had displayed inappropriate behaviour to two service users in a patient’s own home;

• The Registrant had displayed further inappropriate behaviour in a public area of A&E, in the presence of other service users, one of whom had expressed concerns to the Registrant about her behaviour;

• There was evidence of actual harm to the extent of causing upset and distress to both Patient A and Person A, and leaving Person A with an ongoing anxiety of future contact with the ambulance service.
• There was no meaningful insight on the part of the Registrant, who had not demonstrated remorse for or remediation of her conduct;

79. The Panel considered the sanctions available, beginning with the least restrictive. The Panel did not consider that the options of taking no further action, mediation or the sanction of a Caution Order to be appropriate or proportionate in the circumstances of this case. None of these options would address the risk of repetition which the Panel has identified, nor would they reflect the seriousness of the Registrant’s conduct and how it in fact impacted on Person A and Patient A, and how it has the potential to undermine the public’s confidence in the profession. The Panel also considered paragraph 22 of the ISP and considered it was relevant, in particular where it states: ‘A caution order is unlikely to be appropriate in cases where the Registrant lacks insight’.

80. The Panel moved on to consider the imposition of a Conditions of Practice Order. The Indicative Sanctions Policy suggests that this sanction may be appropriate where the issues are capable of remediation and there is no persistent or general failure which would prevent the Registrant from doing so. In this case, the Panel has already indicated that it is of the view that remediation of the Registrant’s conduct is possible.

81. Although the Panel was of the view that the conduct was capable of being remedied, it was not, however, satisfied that it had, in fact, been remedied. As the last communication from the Registrant had been her self referral on 25 October 2015, the Panel did not have before it information about her current personal circumstances, and, as earlier found, no information of remediation or reflection. This meant that the Panel could not assess whether or not the Registrant would cooperate with or be able to comply with conditions. Also, the nature of the misconduct was not clinical, but behavioural and so it would be difficult to formulate conditions to address the misconduct.

82. The Panel was also of the view that paragraph 27 of the ISP was relevant and applicable in this case given the Registrant’s lack of engagement thus far. That paragraph states: ‘The imposition of conditions requires a commitment on the part of the registrant to resolve matters and therefore conditions of practice are unlikely to be suitable in cases: where there are serious (…) overall failings; the registrant lacks insight…’. The Panel therefore concluded that a Conditions of Practice Order is inappropriate in this case.

83. The Panel next considered a Suspension Order and concluded that this was the appropriate and proportionate sanction, both to protect the public and to meet the wider public interest. Given the nature of the Registrant’s conduct, together with the risk of repetition which had been identified, the Panel was satisfied that such an Order would provide appropriate protection to service users. Such an Order is also required to maintain public confidence in the profession, as well as declare professional standards, as it marks the seriousness of the departure from proper standards, displayed by the Registrant.

84. The Panel considers that the length of the Order should be for 6 months in all the circumstances of this case. This is to mark the seriousness of the misconduct and is with a view to giving the Registrant the opportunity to demonstrate to the next panel that she has reflected on her conduct and has developed insight. She should be able to identify how it was that she allowed her personal frustrations to dictate her behaviour at the time, what steps she would take to ensure that she would not behave in the same way in future and an understanding of the impact of her behaviour on others, as well as on the public’s confidence in the profession.

85. Given that the Panel is of the view that the impairment is remediable it is of the view that a Striking Off Order would be disproportionate at this time, although all options in relation to sanction would be open to a future reviewing Panel.

86. This Panel does not seek to fetter the discretion of a future reviewing Panel, but it considers that such a Panel may be assisted by the attendance of the Registrant at any review, so that she may provide evidence of insight and remediation. Such evidence might include, written testimonials, a commitment to keeping her knowledge and skills up to date and providing a genuine reflection on her conduct, including:

• How it was that she came to behave in the inappropriate manner displayed on 6 April 2015 and 24 September 2015;
• An understanding of the impact her behaviour would have had on Person A, Patient A, the members of the public present at A&E and her professional work colleagues;
• How  she would avoid a repetition of such behaviour in the future; and
• How her conduct would undermine public confidence in the profession.

87. Although the Panel had no information as to the Registrant’s current financial situation, it acknowledged that such an Order may have an adverse impact upon her. However, the Panel determined that the interests of protecting the public and upholding confidence in the profession outweigh the personal interests of the Registrant in determining the nature and length of the sanction.

Order

ORDER: The Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Mrs Sonya Wheatley for a period of six months from the date this Order comes into effect.

Notes

The order imposed today will apply from 05 April 2017 (the Operative Date).


This order will be reviewed by the Committee no later than 4 October 2017 or earlier if evidence which is relevant to the order becomes available after it was made.

Hearing history

History of Hearings for Mrs Sonya Wheatley

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
06/03/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended