Mr Stephen Samuel Thomas

: Social worker

: SW34845

: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing:10:00 11/04/2017 End: 17:00 11/04/2017

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

: Conduct and Competence Committee
: Conditions of Practice

Allegation

Between 26 November 2012 and 30 July 2014, during the course of your Registration as a Social Worker and whilst employed by Nottinghamshire County Council:

1. In relation to Payment by Result (PbR) claims:

a) The claims submitted by you were rejected due to inaccurate and/or missing information in relation to the following cases;

i. Family Q;

ii. Family L

b) The claims submitted by you were not provided within the required timescales in relation to the following cases;

i. Family Q;

ii. Family S2;

iii. Family Z.

2. You did not undertake and / or record contacts within the required timescales in relation to:

(a) Family T;

(b) Family L;

(c) Family R;

(d) Family S1;

(e) Family S2;

(f) Family S3;

(g) Family W1;

(h) Family P1;

(i) Family D;

(j) Family M1;

(k) Family M2;

(l) Family B1;

3. You did not carry out and/or record a full assessment within the required timescales, in relation to:

(a) Family S1;

(b) Family S2;

(c) Family W2;

(d) Family T;

(e) Family L;

(f) Family P1;

(g) Family A;

(h) Family S3;

(i) Family W1;

(j) Family R;

(k) Family P2;

(l) Family B3;

4. The matters described in paragraphs 1 - 3 constitute misconduct and / or lack of competence.

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

Finding

Preliminary Matters

Application for the Hearing to be Held in Private

1. The Panel considered whether it would be appropriate to hear parts of the evidence in private.   It accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor, noted the contents of the HCPC Practice Note, “Conducting Hearings in Private”, dated July 2015, and was mindful of the general principles of open justice.  The Panel determined that it would hear those parts of the case in which reference was made to the health and private life of the Registrant, in private, under Rule 10 (1)(a) of the HCPC (Conduct and Competence Committee) (Procedure) Rules 2003 (‘the Rules’).  In making this decision the Panel acknowledged that there is a presumption that hearings will be held in public. The decision is to protect the private life of the Registrant which the Panel considers outweighs the public interest in this instance.

Background to the Proposed Consent Order

2. The Registrant is a registered Social Worker.  He commenced employment at Nottinghamshire County Council (“the Council”) in March 1992. Over the subsequent  years he was employed in various positions at the Council, including as a: Social Worker in the Youth Offending Team; Senior Co-ordinator in the Family Intervention Team;  and a Social Worker in the Reception and Assessment and Team. At the time of the Allegation, the Registrant was a District Co-ordinator in the Supporting Families West Locality Team. During the Registrant’s time in this latter role, his line managers reported performance concerns in relation to matters including recording assessments, contact and monitoring reviews.

3. A three-stage internal disciplinary process was conducted at the Council.  KS, Department Manager of the Supporting Families Team, presented her findings from her supervision sessions with the Registrant, at the three hearings which took place.

4.  The Registrant was given notice from the Council in August 2014 and left their employment on 24 October 2014.

5. The matter was subsequently referred to the HCPC.

6. On 27 March 2015 an Investigating Committee of the HCPC determined there was a case to answer, in respect of an earlier version of the Allegation. On 2 October 2015, at a preliminary hearing, a Panel of the Conduct and Competence Committee agreed to amend the Allegation as detailed above.

7. In April 2017, following discussions between the Registrant and his legal representatives, the Registrant agreed and signed the proposed Consent Order. The case is therefore listed for the Panel to consider approval of a Consent Order, on the basis that the Registrant has demonstrated insight into the matters which led to the making of the allegation against him and has engaged in the fitness to practise process. It is proposed that a Conditions of Practice Order for a period of 2 years is a proportionate measure that will provide the necessary protection to the public.

Submissions

8. For the HCPC, Ms Chaker outlined the background to the case as described above. She drew the Panel’s attention to the Practice Note on Disposal of Cases by Consent and submitted that a Conditions of Practice Order of 2 years duration would adequately protect the public. The HCPC considered that a Conditions of Practice Order was a realistic likely outcome if the case had proceeded to a fitness to practise hearing. No more restrictive sanction was necessary in all the circumstances.

9. Ms Chaker also submitted that this was a fair, just and cost- effective disposal that would save the need for further delay and a final hearing.

10. Ms Sharma, on behalf of the Registrant, agreed that a Conditions of Practice Order was the appropriate way forward and drew the Panel’s attention to the Registrant’s engagement in the regulatory process, his reflective statement and the testimonials submitted on behalf of her client.

Decision

11. The Panel considered the public protection and public interest tests as set out in the HCPC Practice Note on the Disposal of Cases by Consent. It also carefully considered the HCPC Indicative Sanctions Policy and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel considered the facts of the case and the submissions made. In particular, the Panel noted the reflective statement (undated) of the Registrant in which he accepted liability for the matters which form the basis of the Allegation and expressed remorse and regret.  It also noted the contents of several references submitted by him, although the most recent reference was now some 6 months old.

12. In signing the Consent Order the Panel noted that the Registrant had accepted the Allegation in full. He accepted that his conduct during the relevant period amounted to misconduct as it represented a serious departure from the standards expected. He also accepted that his fitness to practise is currently impaired.

13. In failing to maintain accurate and complete records the Registrant placed vulnerable service users at risk of harm. The admitted failings continued over an 18 month period. In the context of inadequate record keeping, service users could be placed at risk of harm as the records fail to provide a complete picture for other decision makers accessing those records. In this case there was also the risk of financial loss to the organisation and the risk of wider reputational harm to the profession. In these circumstances, the Panel was satisfied that there was potential for a finding of impairment in this case on both public protection and public interest grounds.

14. The Panel noted the testimonial of Ms RST who worked with the Registrant for nine years and managed him between June 2009 and January 2013.  She observed that the Registrant was an exceptional practitioner with excellent interpersonal skills.

15. The Registrant has shown full insight into and understanding of the implications of his actions.  It is to the Registrant’s credit that he has not sought to abdicate his own responsibility in respect of the period of the Allegation. He recognises that it was his responsibility to prioritise the areas which he found most challenging within his professional practice, namely record keeping.  He also accepted that it is his responsibility to ensure that adequate strategies and equipment were in place in order that his professional standards were not affected by his condition.

16. The Panel noted that the Registrant has enjoyed an otherwise long and unblemished career. Testimonials confirmed that the issues identified were out of character against the background of his career.

17. Between his dismissal from the Council in August 2014 and February 2017 the Registrant worked at Worcester County Council and Doncaster Children’s Trust as a Social Worker via the Ackerman Pierce Employment Agency. Reasonable adjustments were made in these roles and there was no repetition of the conduct identified. The Panel noted that a testimonial on behalf of the agency described the Registrant as, ‘a very hardworking individual who evidently worked incredibly hard to safeguard the welfare of the children and families he worked with’. 

18. In all of these circumstances the Panel considered there is a low risk of recurrence of the failings identified and concluded that this was an appropriate case for a Conditions of Practice Order.

19. The Panel was mindful of the need to balance the effect of the order upon the Registrant with the need to protect the public and uphold the wider public interest. The Panel was satisfied that a two year Conditions of Practice Order was a proportionate sanction in all of the circumstance.  It would provide the public with the necessary degree of protection and the Panel was satisfied that public confidence in the profession and the regulator would not be undermined by proceeding in this way.

20. Accordingly, the Panel approves a Conditions of Practice Order for two year’s duration.

Order

Order: That the Registrar be directed to annotate the Register to show that for a period of 2 years from the date that this Order comes into effect (the Operative Date), you, Stephen Samuel Thomas, must comply with the following conditions of practice:

1. You must inform the HCPC within a week of obtaining employment pertaining to Social Work.

2. 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).

3. You must place yourself and remain under the supervision of a Social Worker registered by the HCPC and supply details of your supervisor to the HCPC within one month of confirming your supervisor. You must attend upon that supervisor as required and follow their advice and recommendations.

4.   You must work with your supervisor to formulate a Personal Development Plan designed to address the deficiencies in the following areas of your practice:

a.   Standard 10 of the HCPC’s Standards of conduct, performance and ethics
-‘You must keep accurate records’

b.   Standard 10 of the HCPC’s Standards of Proficiency for Social Workers
 - ‘Be able to maintain records appropriately’

5.  Within three months of the Operative Date you must forward a copy of your Personal Development Plan to the HCPC.

6.   You must meet with your supervisor on a monthly basis to consider your progress towards achieving the aims set out in your Personal Development Plan.

7.   14 days before the review hearing of this Order, you must allow your supervisor to provide information to the HCPC about your progress towards achieving the aims set out in your Personal Development Plan.

8.  You must maintain a reflective practice profile detailing what you have learnt throughout the period of this Order with regards to record keeping and must provide a copy of that profile to the HCPC 14 days before the review hearing of this Order.

9.   You must periodically review any reasonable adjustments put in place pursuant to the Equality Act 2010.

10.   You must raise any concerns you have about any reasonable adjustments put in place to the appropriate person and/or organisation in a timely manner.

11. You must inform the HCPC within a week of any disciplinary proceedings taken against you by your employer.

12.  You must allow your employer or supervisor to provide a report to the HCPC 14 days before the review hearing of this Order, especially commenting on your record keeping.

13.  You will be responsible for meeting any and all costs associated with complying with these conditions.

14.  Any condition requiring you to provide any information to the HCPC is to be met by you sending the information to the offices of the HCPC, marked for the attention of the Director of Fitness to Practise or Head of Case Management.

Notes

This order will be reviewed by the Committee no later than 11 April 2019 or earlier if new evidence which is relevant to the order becomes available after it was made.

Hearing history

History of Hearings for Mr Stephen Samuel Thomas

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
11/04/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Conditions of Practice