Miss Sarah Anne Garland
The following allegation was put before a Panel of the Conduct and Competence Committee at the substantive hearing on 07 – 08 December 2015.
During your employment as a Social Worker for Bedford Borough Council you:
1. Inappropriately accessed the records of the following service users without a work- related reason to do so:
a) Service User A on or around:
i. 14 May 2013
ii. 28 January 2012
b) Service User B on or around
i. 28 January 2012
ii. 31 July 2009
2. On or around 14 May 2013 you amended Service User A’s records without authorisation.
3. On an unknown date you disclosed information from Service User A’s record to Service User A without authorisation to do so.
4. The matters set out in paragraphs 1 – 3 constitute misconduct.
5. By reason of that misconduct your fitness to practise is impaired.
The Panel at the substantive hearing found all of the particulars of the allegation proved. The Panel went on to find that the proved particulars amounted to Misconduct and the Registrant’s fitness to practise to be impaired. A Suspension Order for 12 months was imposed as a Sanction.
1. The Panel was satisfied that Notice of today’s hearing had been served on the Registrant at her home address.
Proceeding in absence
2. The Registrant did not appear and had not responded to attempts to contact her in relation to these proceedings. On behalf of the HCPC, Mr Claughton applied for the hearing to be conducted in the absence of the Registrant on the basis that the Registrant had been notified of the date, time and location of the hearing at her registered address. Mr Claughton submitted that it was in the public interest for the hearing to proceed expeditiously.
3. Having considered the revised HCPC Practice Note on “Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant” and the advice of the Legal Assessor on the case of GMC v Adeogba  EWCA Civ 162 (“the fair, economical, expeditious and efficient disposal of allegations against medical practitioners is of real importance”), the Panel was satisfied that the Registrant had received reasonable Notice of the hearing. The Registrant had not applied for an adjournment of today’s hearing and had not engaged with the regulatory process since the last review. There was no indication that she would attend at a later date if today’s hearing were to be adjourned. The Panel noted the overriding public interest in dealing with matters in a timely manner and that this was a mandatory review. In balancing the Registrant’s interest and the public interest, the Panel decided that the matter should be heard in the absence of the Registrant.
Proceeding in private
4. Mr Claughton, for the HCPC, applied for part of the hearing to be held in private, insofar as it was necessary to protect those connected to this allegation. It is not necessary to add further details here. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and allowed the application in order to protect the private life of those concerned.
5. The Registrant was employed by Bedford Borough Council from 2009. She worked as a Band 7 Social Worker in the Hospital Social Work Team at Bedford Hospital. The Conduct and Competence Committee of the HCPC heard a final Fitness to Practise hearing on 7-8 December 2015 at which the Registrant did not attend nor was she represented. She was found to have accessed the records of two service users without a work-related reason on dates between 2009 and 2013, and to have amended the records in relation to one of those service users, then disclosed information on the same service user without authorisation. The Panel at the final hearing found that her fitness to practise was impaired by reason of her misconduct and imposed a Suspension Order of 12 months.
6. The Suspension Order was extended at a review hearing for a further four months on 22 December 2016, at which the Registrant did not attend nor was she represented. For that hearing, she submitted an email in which she apologised for her actions and expressed a wish to undertake the necessary retraining to return to her profession. On that occasion, the Panel considered that her fitness to practise remained impaired but invited the Registrant to assist the next reviewing panel by providing a reflective statement regarding her misconduct, with particular reference to the effect on service users and confidence in the profession, evidence of insight and evidence of continuing professional development.
7. This the second review in this case. No further communication has been received from the Registrant in advance of this hearing today. The Panel at this hearing considered submissions from Mr Claughton on behalf of the HCPC. He reminded the Panel of the history of the case and of their powers as to extending, continuing, varying or revoking the order or imposing another order. Mr Claughton submitted that fitness to practise remained impaired because the Registrant had been given an opportunity to re-engage in the regulatory process and she had failed to make any further contact or provide any evidence.
8. In relation to sanction, Mr Claughton submitted that a further Suspension Order was the minimum requirement, but he went further and contended that the Panel should consider the sanction of Striking Off on the basis that the Registrant had not worked as a Social Worker for three years.
9. A substantive review is a two-stage process. The first task of the Panel is to decide whether the Registrant’s fitness of practise is currently impaired and if so, to then consider what, if any, sanction should be imposed upon her registration. In reaching its decision, the Panel has considered all the relevant material, including submissions, and had regard to the HCPC Practice Note on “Finding That Fitness to Practice is ‘Impaired’”, the HCPC “Indicative Sanctions Policy” and the necessity for proportionality.
10. The Panel considered submissions from Mr Claughton and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel had firmly in mind that the purpose of this hearing was to conduct a thorough appraisal of the Registrant’s current fitness to practise, including an assessment of future risk, and that this was not a rehearing of the facts of the original case.
11. The original allegation was a serious matter of misconduct. There was no further evidence of insight from the Registrant to demonstrate that she was trying to remedy her past misconduct or to return to her profession. In the absence of any engagement from the Registrant, the Panel found that her fitness to practise remained impaired. Any other finding would damage public confidence in the profession and the regulator.
12. The nature of the misconduct was too serious to make no order or to consider mediation. The Panel considered whether to impose a Caution Order, but decided that it was inappropriate, because there was insufficient evidence of insight or remediation.
13. The Panel then considered carefully whether a Conditions of Practice Order was appropriate or workable, but concluded that the absence of any information about her current circumstances made such an order impossible to formulate. A Conditions of Practice Order requires commitment on the part of the Registrant, but there has been no such engagement in this case.
14. Mr Claughton for the HCPC made a persuasive submission that the Registrant should be struck off the register in the circumstances. The Panel found that the Registrant’s failings are, however, capable of remediation, so it is not necessary to impose the most severe sanction at this stage, although this was a very finely balanced decision.
15. The Panel concluded that a further Suspension Order of 4 months’ duration was the appropriate and proportionate sanction that best reflects the gravity of the misconduct. The Panel is satisfied that this order will protect the public and maintain the confidence of the public in the regulator and the profession.
16. This Panel repeats the invitation to the Registrant to assist the next reviewing panel by providing a reflective statement regarding her misconduct, with particular reference to the effect on service users and confidence in the profession, evidence of insight and evidence of continuing professional development.
17. The Registrant should be aware that all options, including Striking Off, are available to a future reviewing panel as to the final disposal of this case. Whilst this Panel cannot bind the decision of any future Panel, the Registrant should be warned that this further extension of the current order could be her last chance to return to her profession if she fails to respond.
The Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Miss Sarah Anne Garland for a further period of 4 months on the expiry of the existing order.
The order imposed today will apply from 5 May 2017.
This order will be reviewed again before its expiry on 5 September 2017.
History of Hearings for Miss Sarah Anne Garland
|Date||Panel||Hearing type||Outcomes / Status|
|03/08/2017||Conduct and Competence Committee||Review Hearing||Struck off|
|07/04/2017||Conduct and Competence Committee||Review Hearing||Suspended|
|22/12/2016||Conduct and Competence Committee||Review Hearing||Suspended|
|07/12/2015||Conduct and Competence Committee||Final Hearing||Suspended|