Ms Lucy May McGarrity

: Social worker

: SW78229

Interim Order: Imposed on 07 Jun 2017

: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing:10:00 05/06/2017 End: 17:00 07/06/2017

: Health and Care Professions Tribunal Service (HCPTS), 405 Kennington Road, London, SE11 4PT

: Conduct and Competence Committee
: Suspended

Allegation

Allegation (as amended):

Whilst registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) as a Social Worker;

1. On the 11 December 2015 at Luton Crown Court, you were convicted of two counts of Theft.

2. During the course of your employment by Bedford Borough Council, on 25 February 2014, you asked an adoptive family for a personal loan.

3. During the course of your registration and/or application with Healthcare Locums Limited (HCL):

a. You did not disclose that you worked for Bedford Borough Council in 2014.

b. You stated that you were on a ‘career gap’ between January 2014 and April 2014, which was not the case.

c. You did not state that you were the subject of a HCPC investigation regarding your fitness to practise.

d. You did not disclose that you had been dismissed by Bedford Borough Council.

4. Your actions described in paragraph 3 were dishonest.

5. Your actions descried in paragraphs 2-4 constitute misconduct.

6. By reason of your conviction described in paragraph 1 and/or your misconduct described in paragraphs 2-4, your fitness to practise is impaired.

Finding

Preliminary matters

1. Having seen copies of the Notice of Hearing dated 26 January 2017, the Registrant’s Certificate of Registration, proof of posting, and receiving the advice of the Legal Assessor, the Panel determined that the Notice of Hearing had been served in accordance with the applicable rules.

2. The Registrant was not present although there had been communication with her. On 2 June 2017 there had been a telephone call in which she had said that she was aware of the date of the hearing and she would be attending. She subsequently sent an email,  timed at 02.25am on the day of this hearing stating that she would be unable to attend as she had ‘‘come down with a sickness bug and I am unable to travel.’’ She went on to say that she wanted to attend the hearing and have the opportunity to speak to the Panel face to face, as she felt that she would be at a disadvantage if her hearing were to be heard in her absence and any decision would be unfairly made. She then said, ‘‘Therefore I am asking if my hearing can be postponed to a future date. If this is not possible please could you let me know as soon as possible to allow me to prepare a hand written statement to be read out at the hearing.’’

3. The Registrant was telephoned and spoken to by the Hearings Officer, Presenting Officer and the Legal Assessor. She confirmed her position to be that as set out in her earlier email. She said she was unable to leave her house and could not therefore provide any medical certificate. She was offered the opportunity of participating in the hearing by telephone but she declined it because of technical difficulties, it being difficult to establish a clear telephone connection. She referred to documents that she had previously sent to the HCPC and gave her permission for the Panel to view them. She also repeated her wish to have the hearing postponed. The Registrant had provided a written statement to the HCPC in June 2016. That statement dealt with all of the Particulars in the allegation and the Registrant made full admissions to all of those Particulars and the grounds of the allegation. She did not admit that her fitness to practise was currently impaired. The Registrant was telephoned again and indicated that she was content for the application to proceed. She understood that there would be an application on her behalf for an adjournment.

4. Mr Kewley opposed the application for an adjournment. He stated that this application to adjourn was not supported by medical evidence. If the hearing were to be adjourned it would be likely to be some months hence before it could be relisted. Furthermore, the facts and grounds are not disputed. He also applied for the hearing to proceed in the absence of the Registrant under Rule 11 of the Health and Care Professions Council (Conduct and Competence) (Procedure) Rules 2003 (the Rules). He dealt with the history of the case. It had been first referred on 11 March 2014. Some of the allegations dated back to 2013. The matter had been listed for hearing in October 2016 but had been adjourned at short notice at the request of the Registrant because of an ‘‘unexpected bereavement’’.

5. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and carefully considered all of the documents put before it along with the Practice Notes on Postponement and Adjournment of Proceedings and Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant.

6. The Panel declined the Registrant’s request for an adjournment. In making this decision it considered the age of the allegation and the need for expedition in regulatory proceedings. It also considered the late stage of the application to adjourn and the lack of supporting medical evidence. It weighed up the disadvantages to the Registrant and the likely consequences of another delay of several months if the matter were to be adjourned. Although this was not a particular case where witnesses’ recollections were likely to be strongly affected, it was a reality that their recollections would fade with time. The Registrant had made submissions and accepted all of the allegations made against her, therefore any disadvantage caused to her was minimised.

7. The Panel then went on to consider whether to hear this matter in the Registrant’s absence. It had the advantage of a full witness statement from her in which she had comprehensively admitted all of the allegations made against her. She also admitted misconduct. The witnesses for the HCPC were present and prepared to give evidence.  The matter was old and there was a need for it to be dealt with expeditiously. Although the Registrant had indicated that she was unable to attend, she was engaging with the process and answering the telephone. She had indicated that she was fully aware of the Panel’s powers to proceed in her absence and she could provide an up to date statement. The Panel therefore considered that, in this case, the public interest in proceeding outweighed the interests of the Registrant in being present at her hearing and determined to proceed with the hearing in her absence.

8. Mr Kewley then applied to amend the allegation. The proposed amendments had been notified to the Registrant by a letter dated 14 June 2016. Although she had been in communication with the HCPC since then she had made no objection to the proposed amendments which were done in order to ensure clarity in the allegation and did not increase the gravity of the allegations made against her. The Panel considered the advice of the Legal Assessor which was that an amendment could be made provided the Panel was satisfied that no injustice was caused.

9. The Panel allowed the application and amendments. In making this decision the Panel noted that the proposed amendments made no substantial difference to the case alleged against the Registrant or the admissions made by her.

Background

10. The Registrant commenced employment with Bedford Borough Council (the Council) in June 2013. On 26 February 2014 a foster carer contacted the Adoption Team Manager at the Council in relation to the Registrant. The foster carer informed the Adoption Manager that the Registrant had sent her an email requesting a personal loan. This matter was investigated internally and other concerns about the Registrant’s conduct were noted. These concerns were regarding financial impropriety. The Registrant ceased employment with the Council shortly after this.

11. On 8 April 2014 the Registrant applied to Healthcare Locums Workforce Solutions Limited (HCL) for temporary social work positions. She successfully obtained a position with Birmingham City Council. On 26 August 2015 HCL received an email alert from the HCPC regarding all recent cases and decisions taken by a committee of the HCPC. HCL receive these emails on a regular basis as part of a subscription to HCPC fitness to practise alerts. The email on 26 August 2015 detailed that the Registrant had been issued with an Interim Suspension Order on 17 July 2015. HCL informed Birmingham City Council and investigated the matter internally.

12. The police were informed about the financial concerns which had been uncovered by the Council. As a result, the Registrant was arrested and charged. On 11 December 2015, the Registrant pleaded guilty to two counts of theft at Luton Crown Court. She was sentenced to a community order with a supervision requirement.

Decision on facts

13. The amended allegation was read out. The Panel bore in mind the burden and standard of proof and considered each Particular separately.

14. The Panel first considered the witnesses who had given evidence. The HCPC called 2 witnesses, LD and JK. The Panel also had the benefit of statements and other paper exhibits put before it, including the statement made by the Registrant and the witness statements made on her behalf. The Panel considered the Police Interviews with the Registrant on 26 November 2014 and the sentencing remarks made by His Honour Judge Bridge at Luton Crown Court on 11 December 2015. The interviews were a verbatim record of the matters being put to her throughout in which she appeared to have a full understanding of her responsibilities as a Social Worker. The Panel also considered the witness statement made by the Registrant in July 2015. The Panel accorded them the appropriate weight in considering the allegations made against the Registrant by the HCPC.

15. The Panel found both witnesses called by the HCPC to be clear and their oral evidence to be consistent with their witness statements. They were willing to make concessions and the Panel found their evidence to be helpful and reliable.

16. The Panel then considered the individual Particulars. 

Particular 1 – found proved

17. The Panel found this Particular proved. In making this decision the Panel relied upon the Certificate of Conviction from Luton Crown Court signed and dated on 2 February 2016 and the Registrant’s admissions.

Particular 2 – found proved

18. The Panel found this Particular proved. In making this decision the Panel relied upon the email chain from the Registrant to the family in particular the email from the Registrant to the adoptive parents, dated 25 February 2014, the carer’s statement to the police, the Registrant’s interview with the police and her admissions.

Particular 3(a) – found proved

19. The Panel found this Particular proved. In making this decision the Panel relied upon the absence of any details of this in her CV, her initial registration form and her interview with HCL along with her admissions.

Particular 3(b) – found proved

20. The Panel found this Particular proved. In making this decision the Panel relied upon the input of incorrect information relating to a ‘career gap’ in her CV, and her initial registration form, her face to face interview with HCL and her admissions.

Particular 3(c) – found proved

21. The Panel found this Particular proved. In making this decision the Panel relied upon the lack of information given by the Registrant in the registration form and the lack of information given to her employers and her admissions.

Particular 3(d) – found proved

22. The Panel found this Particular proved. In making this decision the Panel relied upon the lack of information given by the Registrant in her registration form, the lack of information given to her employers, her signed declaration and her admissions.

Particular 4 – found proved

23. The Panel found this Particular proved. There was clear evidence of premeditation on the part of the Registrant. The Registrant has omitted important details from the HCL registration form concerning her employment and subsequent dismissal by the Council and the fitness to practise investigation by the HCPC. The Panel concluded that her omissions were deliberate. The Panel applied the two-part test of dishonesty and concluded that a reasonable and honest person would have considered such behaviour as dishonest. Furthermore, the Panel is satisfied that the Registrant knew that her behaviour was dishonest and she admitted that fact. 

Decision on grounds

24. Having found all of the facts proved, the Panel went on to consider whether they amounted to a conviction and/or misconduct. The Registrant had indicated in a telephone call that she wanted to update her witness statement and she subsequently provided an updated copy on the morning of day 2 of the hearing. The Panel took that into account as well as her previous witness statement. It bore in mind the submissions made by Mr Kewley and the advice of the Legal Assessor, in particular the legal authorities to which the Panel had been directed.

25. The Panel first considered the conviction. The conviction was serious and related to 2 counts of theft from Service Users. The Service Users were children who were vulnerable because of the position of trust the Registrant was in as their Social Worker.

26. The Panel then considered whether the facts found proved amounted to misconduct. The Panel bore in mind that misconduct needs to be serious or behaviour that is dishonourable or disgraceful such that fellow practitioners would have regarded it as deplorable.

27. The Panel considered whether the conduct found proved in each Particular amounted to misconduct. In Particular 2, the Registrant had admitted to attempting to borrow money from the adoptive parents. The nature of the relationship between the adoptive parents and the Registrant, as their Social Worker, placed the Registrant in a dominant position over the Service Users. This increased their vulnerability and made her behaviour the worse. The behaviour had the added effect of bringing the profession into disrepute as any member of the public hearing that a Social Worker was attempting to borrow money from a Service User under their care would consider such behaviour reprehensible. In the Panel’s view the behaviour was serious and did amount to misconduct.

28. In Particular 3 the Registrant had attempted to deliberately circumvent rules that were put in place to protect the public. It is of crucial importance that potential employers can rely upon information given to them by Registrants in order properly to be informed as to the professional ability and standing of prospective employees. The Registrant’s behaviour in attempting to conceal or present a misleading picture of herself was serious and had the possibility of undermining public confidence. The Panel considered that this behaviour was serious and amounted to misconduct.

29. The Registrant’s acts of dishonesty, although they have been admitted by her, in the Panel’s view clearly amounted to misconduct.

30. The Registrant is an experienced Social Worker. Her behaviour showed a blatant disregard for the values underpinning Social Work, namely respect for the individual, honesty and integrity. The Panel concluded that the Registrant had breached the following Standards of conduct, performance and ethics:

3 You must keep high standards of personal conduct.
You must keep high standards of personal conduct, as well as professional conduct. You should be aware that poor conduct outside of your professional life may still affect someone’s confidence in you and your profession.

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.
You must justify the trust that other people place in you by acting with honesty and integrity at all times. You must not get involved in any behaviour or activity which is likely to damage the public’s confidence in you or your profession.

31. The Panel further concluded that the Registrant had breached the following Standards of proficiency for Social workers in England:

9.1 understand the need to build and sustain professional relationships with Service Users, carers and colleagues as both an autonomous practitioner and collaboratively with others;
9.10 be able to understand the emotional dynamics of interactions with Service Users and carers.

32. All of the matters found proved showed a blatant disregard to the needs of Service Users and the Registrant’s duties as a Social Worker. The Panel has no doubt that other members of the profession and the public would have regarded the Registrant’s behaviour as deplorable. The Panel considers that all of these matters amounted to misconduct.

Decision on impairment
 
33. Having found that the matters found proved amounted to a conviction and misconduct, the Panel went on to consider whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired. It bore in mind the submissions made by Mr Kewley, the advice of the Legal Assessor and the practice note entitled ‘Finding that Fitness to Practise is impaired’.

34. The Panel considered the two component parts relating to impairment, the personal component and the public component. It first considered the personal component, whether the conduct was remediable, whether it had been remedied and whether it was likely to be repeated.

35. The misconduct identified in this hearing took place over a long period of time. It was conduct that went to the heart of the Registrant’s professional responsibilities. She had a duty to support those Service Users put in her care. She failed in that duty. The Registrant showed a lack of understanding of the consequences of her behaviour. Although she has shown some insight by her admissions, she has failed to demonstrate her understanding of the effect or potential effect on vulnerable Service Users and the effect upon the reputation of the profession. No evidence has been put before the Panel that any of the Registrant’s misconduct has been remedied. In consequence, the Panel can only conclude that there remains a likelihood of repetition. The Panel therefore finds that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired on the basis of the personal component of impairment.

36. The Panel is aware that it must also consider the public component of impairment. Because of the serious nature of the conviction and misconduct found the Panel concludes that the public element also applies in this case. The matters found proved involved vulnerable Service Users. The Panel concludes that public confidence in the regulatory process and in the profession would be undermined if a finding of current impairment of fitness to practise was not made. 

37. In summary, the Panel finds that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired on both the personal and public components.

Decision on sanction

38. Having found that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired by reason of her conviction and misconduct, the Panel went on to consider the question of sanction. It heard submissions from Mr Kewley and noted a statement sent by the Registrant after she had seen the Panel’s decision on facts, grounds and impairment.  Before reaching its decision the Panel considered the HCPC Indicative Sanctions Policy and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

39. The Panel considered the gravity of the matters found proved and identified the following aggravating and mitigating factors.

40. The mitigating factors are:
i. the Registrant has admitted her misconduct from the earliest opportunity;
ii. she made a number of admissions in her Police Interviews;
iii. she pleaded guilty to the criminal charges brought against her at the earliest opportunity;
iv. although she did not attend this hearing she has engaged with the process by sending a number of statements to the Panel in which she admitted all of the allegations and the misconduct;
v. there are no previous regulatory or criminal findings made against her;
vi. she has made expressions of regret and remorse for her behaviour;
vii. at the time of the incidents that have brought her before this Panel, the Registrant was undergoing challenging personal circumstances;
viii. the Panel considers that the Registrant has shown some, albeit limited, insight into the consequences of her actions;
ix. she has demonstrated by her behaviour and statements that she has a continuing commitment to her Social Work profession.

41. The aggravating features are:
i. the seriousness and gravity of the allegations;
ii. the degree of harm, distress and financial upset caused to vulnerable Service Users including children;
iii. the Registrant has been convicted of 2 charges of dishonesty where the dishonesty was inflicted upon vulnerable Service Users in her care;
iv.  this was an abuse of trust as was recognised by the trial judge;
v. the dishonesty found in this case can, and has been properly described as premeditated;
vi. when the Registrant had the opportunity to rectify the information that she had put or not put into the registration form, she failed to do so;
vii. the Panel is not convinced, on all the information that it has seen, that the Registrant fully appreciates the impact that her actions had upon vulnerable Service Users and upon the trust that the public has in the profession.

42. There is, therefore, a risk of repetition. There is a strong public interest in reassuring the public that breaches of trust or dishonesty in the profession will not be condoned.

43. In deciding what sanction, if any, to impose, the Panel has reminded itself that the purpose of sanction is not to be punitive but to protect Service Users and the public interest, although a sanction may have a punitive effect. The Panel has taken into account the principle of proportionality, balancing the interests of the public with those of the Registrant.

44. The Panel has concluded that, in the light of the seriousness of the allegation and the extensive and dishonest nature of the misconduct, a sanction is required. Further, in view of the limited insight shown by the Registrant, the Panel does not consider that a Caution Order is a proportionate response to the misconduct in this case.

45. The Registrant is not working in the social work profession at present and it would be difficult to formulate conditions that deal with dishonesty or which could adequately protect the public. The Panel has concluded that a Conditions of Practice Order is not appropriate or proportionate in this case.

46. The Panel then went on to consider whether to impose a period of suspension. It carefully considered all of the evidence and its findings of fact. The Registrant has not attended this hearing but she has communicated with the HCPC. She has sent statements which have assisted the Panel. It is satisfied that the Registrant has shown some insight into the matters as evidenced by her admissions and engagement with this hearing. The Panel gives her credit for that limited insight and the way in which she has engaged with this hearing. Nevertheless, because of the matters already identified, there remains a risk of repetition and a risk of harm to the public.
 
47. The Panel noted the Indicative Sanctions Policy, paragraphs 47 and 48 (March 2017):

“Striking off is a sanction of last resort….Striking off should be used where there is no other way to protect the public, for example, where there is a lack of insight, continuing problems or denial.  A registrant’s inability or unwillingness to resolve matters will suggest that a lower sanction may not be appropriate.”

48. In this hearing the Registrant has shown some insight and engaged with the process. The Panel considers that although the matters found were serious, in view of the Registrant’s engagement, limited insight and continuing commitment to the profession this is not a case where the last resort of a striking off order is necessary and has therefore determined to impose an order of suspension. In order to emphasise the gravity of the matters found proved, the suspension order will be for the maximum period allowed of 12 months.

49. Shortly before the end of the period of suspension there will be a review. The reviewing panel may be assisted by the personal attendance of the Registrant at that hearing. The reviewing panel may be further assisted by assisted by:
i. A reflective piece from the Registrant which fully addresses the impact her conduct had upon vulnerable Service Users and the reputation of the Social Work profession;
ii. Information as to what support networks she has, or has put into place, to deal with her challenging personal circumstances;
iii. How she has maintained her skills as a Social Worker;
iv. Any up to date references and testimonials.

Order

ORDER: That the Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Ms Lucy May McGarrity for a period of 12 months from the date this order comes into effect.

The order imposed today will apply from 5 July 2017 (the operative date).

This order will be reviewed again before its expiry on 5 July 2018.

Right of Appeal:

You may appeal to the High Court in England and Wales against the Panel’s decision and the order it has made against you.

Under Articles 30(10) and 38 of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001, any appeal must be made to the court not more than 28 days after the date when this notice is served on you.

European alert mechanism:

In accordance with Regulation 67 of the European Union (Recognition of Professional Qualifications) Regulations 2015, the HCPC will inform the competent authorities in all other EEA States that your right to practise has been prohibited.

You may appeal to the County Court against the HCPC’s decision to do so.  Any appeal must be made within 28 days of the date when this notice is served on you.  This right of appeal is separate from your right to appeal against the decision and order of the Panel.

Interim Order: 

The Panel makes an Interim Suspension Order under Article 31(2) of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001, the same being necessary to protect members of the public and being otherwise in the public interest.  This order will expire: (if no appeal is made against the Panel’s decision and Order) upon the expiry of the period during which such an appeal could be made; (if an appeal is made against the Panel’s decision and Order) the final determination of that appeal, subject to a maximum period of 18 months.

 

Notes

No notes available

Hearing history

History of Hearings for Ms Lucy May McGarrity

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
05/06/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended
10/04/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Interim Order Review Interim Suspension