Mr Richard Hughes
Between 24 June 2013 and 9 April 2014, during the course of your engagement as a Social Worker by Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council, you:
1. Did not carry out and/or record Core Group Meetings within the required timescales for:
A. Family A
B. Family B
C. Family D
D. Family E
E. Family G
F. Family J
G. Family K
2. Did not complete and/or record statutory visits within the required timescales for:
A. Family C
B. Family D
C. Family E
D. Family F
E. Family G
F. Family H
G. Family I
H. Family J
I. Family K
3. In relation to Case A:
A. On or around 16 January 2014:
(I) did not attend a Core Group Meeting;
(II) Did not meet the family of Service User A;
(iii) Did not attend a Review Child Protection Case Conference (RCPCC);
(iv) Did not alert the Safeguarding Children's unit of your failure to attend the RCPCC.
B. Did not include recommendations within your report for the RCPCC.
4. In relation to Service User B:
A. Did not arrange a looked after child medical for approximately two months after this was recommended;
B. Did not carry out and/or record statutory visits to the service user;
C. Did not apply for a Personal Educational Allowance for the service user;
D. Did not complete the necessary paperwork relating to the service user's allowance in a timely manner;
E. Between 20 December 2013 and 26 February 2014, did not meet with the foster carers of the service user;
F. Did not ensure that there was an up to date care plan in place;
G. Did not ensure that the service user had an identified PA;
5. The matters described in paragraphs 1-4 constitute misconduct and/or lack of competence.
6. By reason of your misconduct and/or lack of competence your fitness to practise is impaired.
Proof of service
1. The Panel was provided with a signed certificate as proof that the Notice of Hearing had been posted on 8 May 2017 by First Class post, to the address shown for the Registrant on the HCPC register. The Panel was satisfied that Notice had been properly served in accordance with Rule 3 (Proof of Service) and Rule 6 (date, time and venue) of the Conduct & Competence Committee Rules 2003 (as amended).
Proceeding in absence
2. Having determined that service of the Notice of Hearing had been properly effected, the Panel went on to consider whether to proceed in the Registrant’s absence. The Panel was advised by the Legal Assessor and followed that advice. The Panel also took into account the guidance as set out in the HCPC Practice Note “Proceeding in the absence of the Registrant”.
3. The Panel determined that it was reasonable and in the public interest to proceed in the Registrant’s absence for the following reasons:
a) The Registrant provided the Panel with a letter, dated 24 May 2017, containing his written submissions for the purposes of this review hearing, which indicated that he anticipated the hearing would proceed in his absence. Although the Registrant made reference to a health condition in his letter there was no indication that he was unable to attend the hearing for medical reasons. In these circumstances the Panel was satisfied that his non-attendance was deliberate and demonstrates a voluntary waiver of his right to be present.
b) There has been no application to adjourn and therefore re-listing this review hearing would serve no useful purpose.
c) As this is a mandatory review hearing there is a strong public interest in ensuring that it is considered expeditiously. It is also in the Registrant’s interest that the review of his current substantive order is considered prior to expiry.
4. The Registrant was employed as an agency social worker at Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council (SMBC) from 24th June 2013 to 31 March 2014, when concerns about his practice came to light. His contract was not renewed and expired on 31 March 2014. In January 2014, Witness 1, Service Manager, received a complaint from a head teacher, who reported that the Registrant had failed to attend a core group meeting (in respect of Case A) and the family had also reported that the Registrant had not met them prior to a scheduled meeting.
5. On 17th January 2014, Witness 1 and Witness 2 met with the Registrant to address some of the concerns that had been raised about his absences from work and his non-attendance at the core group meeting.
6. On 26 February 2014, a further complaint about the Registrant was raised by Witness 3, Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO). Witness 3 had been acting as a Chair at a Looked After Child review (LAC) for Service User B and had identified a number of concerns about the Registrant’s recording and handling of the case. These concerns were raised with the Registrant at the meeting on 26 February 2014, at which time the Registrant was advised that his contract of employment would not be renewed. The offer of a permanent position at SMBC, which the Registrant had applied for in November 2013, was subsequently withdrawn. After the Registrant’s employment at SMBC was terminated, Witness 2 carried out an audit of the Registrant’s cases and identified that he had failed to complete a number of outstanding recordings in relation to core group meetings and statutory visits. These concerns were referred to the HCPC on 12 May 2014.
7. The Registrant did not attend the substantive HCPC hearing that took place in December 2016. That panel found the Registrant’s fitness to practise to be impaired on the grounds of misconduct and imposed a 6 month Suspension Order. The panel suggested that this review panel may be assisted by:
a) The attendance of the Registrant at the Hearing;
b) A reflective piece by the Registrant, concentrating on:
i) what led to his misconduct; and
ii) how his actions impacted, or could have impacted, on service users and his colleagues;
c) Information about any employment;
d) An indication as to his future plans and whether he wishes to remain in the profession;
e) Evidence of the Registrant keeping his practice and skills up to date either by attending CPD courses (which may include online courses), or being employed in a voluntary capacity in allied and relevant roles;
f) Up to date references from persons who are aware of these proceedings.
8. Ms Alexander-Victor, on behalf of the HCPC, outlined the information the previous panel suggested the Registrant may provide to assist this reviewing panel. She submitted that although the Registrant has provided written submissions he has not provided any of the information or evidence that he was put on notice would be likely to be of assistance. Ms Alexander-Victor submitted that the Registrant’s fitness to practise remains impaired and invited the Panel to extend his current Suspension Order for a further period. She also invited the Panel to remind the Registrant of the possible consequences should he fail to take advantage of any further opportunity he may be granted to demonstrate insight and remediation.
9. The Registrant’s letter, dated 24 May 2017, although not a ‘stand-alone’ reflective piece contained some reflective analysis regarding the circumstances that led to the finding of misconduct together with personal mitigation. He described his Suspension Order as being ‘warranted at the time of issue’ and acknowledged that his administrative skills were ‘somewhat lacking’ and may have had a negative impact ‘from a certain perspective’.
10. The Registrant apologised for any inconvenience that may have been caused. The Registrant invited the Panel to accept that at the time he was going through an acrimonious divorce and went from having full time caring responsibilities for his disabled son to being unable to see him at all which resulted in the Registrant developing health issues. The Registrant informed the Panel that he has ‘addressed all the issues that were affecting [him]’ and stated that he would like to remain in the social work profession. He informed the Panel that he is a good social worker and has a lot to offer the profession.
11. In undertaking this review, the Panel took into account the documentary evidence and the submissions from Ms Alexander-Victor, on behalf of the HCPC and those of the Registrant.
12. The Panel accepted and applied the advice it received from the Legal Assessor as to the proper approach it should adopt. In particular that:
• The purpose of the review is to consider the issue of impairment based on the previous panel’s findings of fact, the extent to which the Registrant has engaged with the regulatory process, the scope and level of his insight, whether his misconduct has been sufficiently and appropriately remedied and the risk of repetition.
• In terms of remediation, relevant factors include whether the Registrant:
(i) fully appreciates the gravity of the previous panel’s finding of impairment;
(ii) has maintained his skills and knowledge;
(iii) is likely to place patients at risk if he were to return to unrestricted practice.
• The Panel should have regard to the HCPC Practice Note: Finding that Fitness to Practice is impaired and must take account of a range of issues which, in essence, comprise two components:
(i) the ‘personal’ component: the current competence, behaviour etc. of the individual registrant; and
(ii) the ‘public’ component: the need to protect service users, declare and uphold proper standards of behaviour and maintain public confidence in the profession.
• It is only if the Panel determine that the Registrant’s fitness to practise remains impaired, that the Panel should go on to consider sanction by applying the guidance as set out in the HCPC Indicative Sanctions Policy (ISP), and the principles of proportionality which require the Registrant’s interests to be balanced against the interests of the public.
13. The Panel took the view that the Registrant’s reflections contained within his letter, dated 24 May 2017, adequately addressed the circumstances which led to the finding of misconduct. The Registrant also confirmed that he would welcome the opportunity to remain in the social work profession. The Panel accepted that the Registrant experienced significantly challenging personal circumstances and that this had an impact on his performance at work, particularly recording, undertaking statutory visits and working within timescales. The Panel also accepted that in all other respects the Registrant is competent social worker. However, the deficiencies in the Registrant’s practice that have been identified are core skills required of all registered social workers. The Panel noted that the Registrant acknowledged that his administrative skills were ‘somewhat lacking’ and went on to state in his letter, dated 24 May 2017, that he, ‘will always prioritise the needs of a family.’ The Panel took the view that this assertion by the Registrant indicates a lack of insight with regard to the importance of record-keeping and administrative tasks in safeguarding service users. The Panel also took the view that the Registrant did not appear to fully appreciate the significance of the deficiencies in his practise as his acknowledgements also contained justifications as referred to in paragraph 9 above.
14. Although the Panel acknowledged that the Registrant had reflected on the circumstances which had led to the finding of misconduct and confirmed that he wishes to remain within the profession, he had failed to address any of the other suggestions that were made by the previous panel. For example, there was no evidence before the Panel that he fully appreciates how his actions impacted or could have impacted on service users and his colleagues. Furthermore, there was no explanation as to how the Registrant would behave differently in the future and no assurance that such serious behaviour would not be repeated.
15. In the absence of meaningful and well developed insight and the steps the Registrant has taken towards remediation since the finding of misconduct and impairment, the Panel concluded that the risk of repetition remains. In particular the Panel was concerned by the Registrant’s failure to fully embrace the opportunity, provided to him by the previous panel, to consider its findings and develop meaningful insight to demonstrate that his fitness to practise is no longer impaired. As a consequence, the Panel determined that there is a current and ongoing risk of harm to service users and further damage to the reputation of the profession.
16. The Panel noted that the Registrant does not appear to have practised social work since 2014 and there was no evidence before the Panel that he has taken any steps to keep his skills and knowledge up to date. The Panel considered that public confidence in the social work profession would be undermined if there was no finding of impairment in this case where the Registrant has failed to provide sufficient information which would indicate that lessons had been learned and appropriate steps taken to remedy his previous conduct and behaviour.
17. The Panel therefore determined that the Registrant’s fitness to practise remains impaired.
18. The Panel then considered what sanction, if any, should be imposed. The Panel bore in mind that the purpose of a sanction was not to punish the Registrant but to protect the public.
19. The Panel first considered taking no action. The Panel concluded that, in view of the nature and seriousness of the Registrant’s misconduct which has not been remedied and in the absence of exceptional circumstances, it would be wholly inappropriate to take no action. Furthermore it would be insufficient to protect the public, maintain public confidence and uphold the reputation of the profession.
20. The Panel then considered a Caution Order. The Panel noted paragraph 28 of the ISP which states:
“A caution order is an appropriate sanction for cases, where the lapse is isolated, limited or relatively minor in nature, there is a low risk of recurrence, the registrant has shown insight and taken appropriate action.”
21. The Registrant’s failings were not minor in nature and had the potential to have wide-ranging adverse consequences. Furthermore, the Registrant has not demonstrated sufficient insight and therefore the Panel concluded that a Caution Order would be inappropriate and insufficient to meet the public interest.
22. The Panel went on to consider a Conditions of Practice Order. The Panel noted that paragraph 33 of the ISP states:
‘Conditions will rarely be effective unless the registrant is genuinely committed to resolving the issues they seek to address and can be trusted to make a determined effort to do so. Therefore, conditions of practice are unlikely to be suitable in cases:
• …lacks insight…;
• where there are serious or persistent overall failings;’
23. The Panel took the view that given the Registrant’s unwillingness or inability to provide the information and evidence that was suggested by the previous panel, this Panel had no confidence that he would comply with a Conditions of Practice Order. The Panel was aware that the suggestions made by the previous panel are only indicative and do not have any binding authority unlike conditions which require compliance. However, both involve willingness on the part of the Registrant and require a determined effort. In the absence of any evidence of willingness and readiness to comply with the previous panel’s suggestions the Panel concluded that there were no conditions it could devise which would be appropriate, workable and measurable.
24. The Panel next considered extending the current Suspension Order for a further period of time. A Suspension Order would send a further signal to the Registrant, the profession and the public re-affirming the standards expected of a registered social worker. The Panel noted that a Suspension Order would prevent the Registrant from practising during the extended suspension period, which would therefore protect the public and the wider public interest. A Suspension Order would also provide the Registrant with the opportunity to develop the insight which is essential if he intends to return to practice.
25. The Panel took into account paragraph 41 of the ISP states:
‘If the evidence suggests that the registrant will be unable to resolve or remedy his or her failings then striking off may be the more appropriate option. However, where there are no psychological or other difficulties preventing the registrant from understanding and seeking to remedy the failings then suspension may be appropriate.’
26. The Panel took the view that the above paragraph applies to the Registrant. The Panel determined that the Registrant should be given a further opportunity to consider carefully the decision of the previous panel and this Panel and properly focus on the issues that have been identified.
27. The Panel determined that the Suspension Order should be extended for a period of 6 months. The Panel was satisfied that this period would be sufficient for the Registrant to demonstrate an appropriate level of insight into his failings. If he is unable to demonstrate insight within that time frame it is highly unlikely that he will ever be able to do so.
28. The Panel decided that the appropriate and proportionate order is a Suspension Order. A Striking Off Order, at this point in time, would be disproportionate as there remains a possibility that the Registrant is willing and able to demonstrate remediation. This Panel cannot bind a future panel but it is highly likely that if the Registrant fails to take advantage of this further opportunity to demonstrate that he has addressed the deficiencies in his practice the outcome is likely to be a Striking Off Order.
29. The extended Suspension Order will be reviewed shortly before expiry. A future reviewing panel is likely to be assisted by the following:
a) The attendance of the Registrant at the Hearing;
b) A further reflective piece by the Registrant, concentrating on:
(i) how his actions impacted on service users and colleagues; and
(ii) the importance of record keeping and working within timescales
c) Information about any employment;
d) An indication as to his future plans;
e) Evidence of the Registrant keeping his practice and skills up to date either by attending CPD courses (which may include online courses), being employed in a voluntary capacity in allied and relevant roles or by any other appropriate method;
f) Up to date testimonials from persons either in a personal or professional capacity who are aware of these proceedings.
The order imposed today will apply from 04 July 2017.
This order will be reviewed again before its expiry on 04 January 2018.