Mr Roger St Elmo Cumberbatch

: Social worker

: SW21298

: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing:10:00 22/08/2017 End: 17:00 24/08/2017

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

: Conduct and Competence Committee
: Suspended

Allegation

Allegation (As amended at the Final Hearing):


During your employment as a Social Worker for Southwark Council you:
 
1. In relation to Service User 1, you did not inform a manager that the child had gone missing on or around 8 July 2015.
 
2. In relation to Service User 2, you did not:
a) interview the child to explore whether there were concerns of sexual abuse within the family;
 
b) undertake and/or record home visits between approximately September 2014 and 16 June 2015;
 
c) complete a review of the care package;
 
3. In relation to Service User 3, you did not:
a) address concerns raised about the child demonstrating sexualised behaviour in your write up of a home visit undertaken on or around 30 April 2015, or at all;
 
b) undertake and/or record home visits between approximately 1 May 2015 and August 2015;
 
c) arrange a Team Around the Child meeting in a timely manner, or at all, following the concerns raised regarding the child demonstrating sexualised behaviour
 
4. In relation to Service user 4, you did not
a) complete a Child in Need plan;
b) complete a review of the care package;
c) complete adequate records of:
i. the home visit undertaken on 17 November 2014
ii. the home visit undertaken 8 January 2015
iii. the home visit undertaken on or around 7 May 2015
iv. the Team Around the Child meeting on or around 18 June 2015
 
5. In relation to Service User 5, you did not:
a) undertake and/or record home visits between approximately 10 December 2013 and 6 August 2015;
 
b) contact the family to ascertain whether an updated initial assessment was required in a timely manner;
 
c) complete the disability registration;
 
d) set up and/or take steps to arrange the support identified following the initial assessment in December 2013
 
e) record any action on the case between approximately 9 December 2013 and 23 September 2014; OFFER NO EVIDENCE
 
6. In relation to Service User 6, you did not:
a) complete a support plan in time to meet the Court’s filing deadline;
 
b) arrange a PEP meeting in a timely manner;
 
7. In relation to Service User 7, you did not complete:
a) the initial assessment in a timely manner;
 
b) the disability registration in a timely manner;
 
8. In relation to Service user 8 you did not complete the initial/single assessment in a timely manner;
 
9. In relation to Service User 9, you did not complete the:
a) initial/single assessment in a timely manner;
 
b) disability registration in a timely manner
 
10. In relation to Service user 10, you did not:
a) complete the initial/single assessment in a timely manner;
 
b) make a referral to an overnight respite centre;
 
c) undertake and/or record home visits to the family between approximately September 2014 and August 2015;
 
11. In relation to Service User 11, you did not complete:
a) the initial/single assessment in a timely manner;
b) the disability registration in a timely manner;
c) a care package assessment;
 
12. In relation to Service User 12, you did not:
a) undertake and/or record home visits to the family between approximately September 2014 and August 2015;
 
b) complete the initial/single assessment in a timely manner;
 
c) complete the disability registration in a timely manner;
 
d) see the family as part of the disability registration process; OFFER NO EVIDENCE
 
13. In relation to Service User 13, you did not:
a) undertake and/or record home visits to the family between approximately December 2014 and August 2015;
 
b) complete the initial/single assessment in a timely manner;
 
c) complete the disability registration;
 
14. In relation to Service User 14, you did not:
a) complete the initial/single assessment in a timely manner;
 
b) complete the disability registration;
 
15. In relation to Service User 15, you did not:
a) complete the initial/single assessment in a timely manner;
 
b) complete records in a timely manner for the following:
i. the home visit undertaken on 16 June 2015
ii. the Team Around the Child meeting of 18 June 2015
 
16. In relation to Service User 16, you did not:
a) complete the initial/single assessment with sufficient detail and/or in a timely manner;
 
b) complete a care package review in a timely manner;
 
c) record a home visit undertaken on or around 11 June 2015;
 
17. The matters as described in paragraphs 1 - 16 constitute misconduct and/or lack of competence.
 
18. By reason of your misconduct and/or lack of competence your fitness to practise is impaired.

Finding

Preliminary matters:

Service

Proceeding in the absence of the Registrant
1. Ms Shameli made an application for the hearing to proceed in the absence of the Registrant. She referred the Panel to correspondence sent to the Registrant’s registered address and to an e-mail address provided by the Registrant. On 13 February 2017 the Registrant was sent a copy of the bundle for a hearing and a pro-forma questionnaire for a final hearing due to take place on 3-5 April 2017. The hearing on 3-5 April 2017 did not proceed because of the unavailability of a panel member. On 16 June 2017 an e-mail was sent to the Registrant advising him of the amended date of the final hearing for 22-24 August 2017. On 25 July 2017 the hearing bundle sent to the Registrant by special delivery on 3 July 2017 was returned to the HCPC as “not called for”. A letter was sent to the Registrant dated 26 July 2017 asking him to contact Kingsley Napley, but he did not respond. He also did not respond to an e-mail sent on 16 August 2017.

2. Ms Shameli submitted that the Registrant’s absence is voluntary. The Registrant has expressed no interest in attending the hearing and is not engaging with the HCPC. There has already been delay due to the previous adjournment of the hearing and it is in the public interest for the hearing to proceed expeditiously.

3. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and applied the guidance in the HCPTS Practice Note “Proceeding in the absence of the Registrant”.

4. The Panel very carefully considered Ms Shameli’s application. The Panel considered the correspondence and chronology outlined by Ms Shameli and decided that the Registrant has waived his right to attend the hearing. There is no information that indicates that the Registrant wishes to engage or to instruct a representative. The Panel noted that the previous adjournment has not resulted in any change in the Registrant’s position and considered that an adjournment would be unlikely to secure the Registrant’s attendance. The Panel considered the Registrant’s interests and whether there would be any unfairness to the Registrant in proceeding in his absence. The Panel decided that any disadvantage to the Registrant was outweighed by the public interest in concluding the matter expeditiously. The Panel took into account that there were two witnesses present and that any further delay may have an impact on their recollection of events. In all the circumstances the Panel decided that it was appropriate to proceed in the Registrant’s absence.

Application to amend

5. Ms Shameli made an application to amend the Allegation. The proposed amendments were set out in a letter to the Registrant dated 20 June 2016. Ms Shameli submitted that the amendments were appropriate to better reflect the evidence and to clarify the Allegation. She submitted that there was no unfairness to the Registrant who has had ample notice of the proposed amendments and has not made any comments.

6. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and considered whether the proposed amendments were prejudicial to the Registrant.

7. During its deliberations on the proposed amendments the Panel identified issues relating to the proposed amendment to delete the word “single” assessment and replace it with “initial” assessment in some of the particulars. The issues arising were explained by the Panel and Ms Shameli made further submissions.

8. The HCPC evidence is that the change from initial and core assessments to one assessment described as a “single” assessment took place in July 2015. Ms Shameli agreed that the particulars where an amendment is sought to vary the terminology may cover a period of time both before and after July 2015. She further agreed that an amendment to substitute “initial/single” would be consistent with the evidence. She submitted that this proposed amendment to the terminology was not prejudicial to the Registrant. There is a short timeframe of ten days for an initial assessment whereas the timeframe for a single assessment is up to 45 days. Nevertheless, this difference is not material to the HCPC case against the Registrant which involves allegations of substantial delays measured in months rather than days.

9. The Panel decided that the proposed amendments, including the change to “initial/single”, do not prejudice the Registrant and are appropriate. Although the Registrant has not had prior notice of the amendment proposed by the Panel, this amendment does not change the substance or gravity of the particulars. The Panel therefore agreed to the proposed amendments and the change to “initial/single”. The Panel noted Ms Shameli’s explanation that no evidence would be offered by the HCPC on particulars 5(e) and 12(d) because they duplicate or overlap with other particulars.

Hearing in private

10. Ms Shameli made an application for part of the hearing to be heard in private. This application was limited to that part of the evidence relating to the details of the Registrant’s health.

11. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and decided that it was appropriate for part of the hearing to be heard in private to protect the Registrant’s private life. This decision was limited to the part of the hearing which concerned the detail of the Registrant’s health.

Background:

12. The Registrant was employed as a social worker at Southwark Council (“the Council”). He started working at the Council on 14 January 2008 within the Children with Disabilities team. The Children with Disabilities Team works with children who have severe or profound permanent disability and/or life limiting illness. This also required working with the children’s families.

13. Concerns were first raised about the Registrant’s work towards the end of 2014. Following a period of support, including formal and informal supervision, and guidance meetings at which the Registrant’s performance was discussed, an investigation was carried out. The Investigating Officer into the Registrant’s performance was RW, a qualified social worker. RW worked at the Council as a Team Manager from June 2013 and an Advanced Practitioner from July 2015. He worked with the Registrant on a daily basis, undertook some of his supervision sessions and managed duty work carried out by the Registrant. RW submitted his investigation report to the Council’s Human Resources Department in November 2015.

14. The Registrant’s direct line manager until July 2015 was SSF. In July 2015 the Children with Disabilities Team was restructured. Following the restructure KB, Advanced Practitioner, became the Registrant’s direct line manager. KB sat next to the Registrant, provided management support, and conducted formal supervision sessions with the Registrant.

Decision on Facts

15. The Panel heard evidence from RW and KB. The Panel found that both witnesses were credible and reliable. Both witnesses gave a balanced account, including a positive description of the Registrant’s personality.

16. There was no evidence or submissions from the Registrant. The evidence of RW was that during guidance meetings and the capability process the Registrant acknowledged that his work fell below the required standards. He did not dispute the facts, but put forward mitigating factors of difficulties with IT system and pressure of work.

17. A disability registration assessment is an assessment of a child to assess whether they are eligible to receive support from the Children with Disability Service. The assessment is made on the basis of a visit to the family and child and a review of medical information or reports. Although disability registrations should be completed within 10 days, the custom and practice at the relevant time was that social workers took a longer period of time to complete this work of up to two months.

18. An assessment is the next step of the procedure for a service user to receive support and services from the Local Authority. The assessment may be followed by a care package assessment form if the service user requires practical support such as respite or short break services. Until July 2015 the assessments carried out by social workers were called initial assessments and core assessments. A core assessment was a more in depth assessment of the service user needs. The assessments were renamed as single assessments in July 2015. An initial assessment should be completed within 10 days and a core assessment within 35 days. The single assessment should be completed between 10-45 days. Again these timeframes were not always adhered to, but the custom and practice at the time within the Children with Disability Services Team was that the initial or single assessment should be completed within a maximum of two months.

19. The Panel concluded, in respect of all the particulars considered below that the Registrant’s disability registrations and assessments, whether initial assessments or single assessments, were not completed in a timely manner. The delays were all unacceptable and significantly in excess of two months. The delay in the cases allocated to the Registrant was in excess of the delays that may have occurred in the work of other social workers in the team.

Particular 1

20. Service User 1 was a 12-year-old child. His mother suffered from a long term chronic illness with frequent hospital admissions and there was a history of domestic violence with his father. Service User 1 was acting as a young carer and was exhibiting emotional and behavioural difficulties both at home and at school.

21. On 8 July 2015, the Registrant was acting as the “Duty Social Worker”.  He received a telephone call from Service User 1’s mother. She stated that her son had gone missing with another child.

22. The Registrant should have alerted the Duty Manager immediately upon hearing this, in order to trigger missing children procedures, to ensure that everything was being done to locate the child. However, he did not. In fact, the matter only came to the Duty Manager’s attention six days later, when Service User 1’s mother telephoned the Council and informed KB that Service User 1 had been found and returned by the police.

23. The Panel found particular 1 proved by the evidence of KB, RW and the documentary evidence.

Particular 2

24. Service User 2 was a 13-year-old boy with moderate to severe learning disabilities and health concerns. He exhibited very challenging behaviour both at home and at school.

25. In August 2014, an allegation was made against Service User 2’s father. The allegation concerned an alleged sexual offence relating to an adolescent girl while on a family holiday. Service User 2’s father moved out of the family home and the police conducted an investigation. Strategy meetings took place on 22 August 2014 and 29 August 2014.

26. After a Strategy Meeting RW instructed the Registrant to interview Service User 2 at school to ascertain whether there were any concerns of sexual abuse within the family. A specific deadline was not set, but the Registrant was aware of the need for the task to be carried out promptly and that this was a very important task given the allegation against Service User 2’s father. However, the Registrant did not carry out the interview.

27. Following the making of the allegation in August 2014, there is no record that the Registrant carried out a home visit to Service User 2 until 16 June 2015. Neither did he complete a care package review, although he recorded an intention to do so in a case summary dated 6 August 2015.

28. The Panel found particulars 2(a), 2(b) and 2(c) proved by the evidence of RW and the documentary evidence.

Particular 3

29. Service User 3 was aged eight years old in 2014. He was diagnosed with autism. He had a history of psychosis and a long admission to a Childrens Psychiatric Unit. He displayed sexualised behaviour and language, the origins of which were unclear.

30. Service User 3’s school raised concerns that he was persistently showing sexualised behaviour and using sexualised language while at school. They telephoned the Registrant numerous times, but he did not respond to the school. Neither did he notify his manager about the concerns raised by the school so that a management decision could be made about how best to respond. Given that these concerns related to sexualised behaviour, they were predominantly safeguarding issues, and should have been responded to quickly.

31. It would appear that the Registrant visited Service User 3’s home on 30 April 2015. However, there is no record that he explored the concerns raised by the school. In fact, all he recorded about that visit was when he visited and who was present.

32. There were no recorded home visits made to Service User 3 after the visit of 30 April 2015. In the case summary, dated 6 August 2015, the Registrant himself noted, “My last visit to the family home took place on 30/4/15”.

33. The Panel found particulars 3(a) and 3(b) proved by the evidence of RW and the documentary evidence.

34. A “Team Around the Child” (TAC) meeting should have been held for Service User 3 to explore the concerns raised. The Panel noted a supervision record dated 12 June 2015 in which the Registrant’s manager SSF recorded: “[the Registrant] has attended Tac meetings looking at how best to address SU3s on-going sexualised behaviour”. Although RW was not confident that TAC meetings had taken place, the Panel’s view was that the contemporaneous documentary evidence should not be discounted. The record refers to more than one TAC meeting having taken place. The note does not record the date of the TAC meetings and there are no records of a TAC meeting on any date. The Panel reviewed the other documents for Service User 3, but found that they did not assist. In a supervision meeting on 8 May 2015 the Registrant was asked to arrange a TAC meeting, but this could be a reference to a first TAC meeting or to a follow up TAC meeting.

35. The Panel found that the HCPC has not discharged the burden of proof in that TAC meetings did not take place. The date of the TAC meetings is unknown and the HCPC has not proved that they were not carried out in a timely manner. The Panel therefore found particular 3(c) not proved.

Particular 4

36. Service User 4 was an eight-year-old boy with autism. He exhibited challenging behaviour. He was in receipt of a very high care package.

37. The Registrant completed a number of home visits on 17 November 2014, 8 January 2015 and 7 May 2015. The record for 17 November 2014 has no content other than the words “home visit”. The record for 8 January 2015 is inadequate because it does not address any of the relevant issues. There is no note of the visit on 7 May 2015, although a visit on that date is mentioned in the Registrant’s case summary relating to Service User 4 dated 6 August 2015.

38. The Registrant also made reference, in his case summary relating to Service User 4, that a TAC meeting had taken place on 18 June 2015. However, he failed to record this on the Care First system on Service User 4’s file.

39. The Registrant started a Child in Need plan for Service User 4, but failed to complete it. He did not review the care package provided for Service User 4 and the last assessment was completed on 5 June 2013. A review should be undertaken annually.

40. The Panel found particular 4(a), 4(b) and 4(c) proved by the evidence of RW and the documentary evidence.

Particular 5

41. Service User 5 was a seven-year-old boy with autism who attended a special school. His family requested respite in order to cope with his behaviour. The Registrant completed an initial assessment on 9 December 2013 and recommended four hours of weekly care support from a carer. There were no subsequent recorded steps taken by the Registrant to obtain authorisation for the care package following the assessment in December 2013. This was identified in supervision in September 2014, when he was asked to follow this up.

42. Additionally, it was pointed out to the Registrant on 17 March 2015 that the disability registration assessment for Service User 5 was incomplete. He was reminded to contact the family to complete an updated initial assessment if it was still required, “asap”. In his case summary dated 6 August 2015 the Registrant recorded that he had been tasked to complete a new single assessment.

43. By December 2015, when the Registrant left the department, he had not completed the care package or a new single assessment, which was required due to the length of time that had passed. There is no record that he had completed the disability registration.

44. The Registrant also failed to undertake or record home visits to Service User 5 between approximately 10 December 2013 and 6 August 2015. In the Registrant’s case summary dated 6 August 2015 he stated, “I last visited the family home on 9/12/2013”.

45. The Panel found particulars 5(a), 5(b), 5(c) and 5(d) proved by the evidence of RW, KB and the documentary evidence.
Particular 6

46. Service User 6 was a 14-year-old boy with complex medical conditions. He was subject to Care Proceedings and came into local authority care on 14 June 2014. The Registrant had responsibility, as his allocated social worker, to ensure that Service User 6’s Personal Education Plan (“PEP”) meeting was arranged in a timely manner. A PEP meeting should take place 10 days after a child becomes a “looked after” child in the care of the local authority, or, if the looked after child is starting at a new school, within 20 days. The Registrant failed to arrange the PEP meeting, despite being reminded to do so repeatedly by his manager. In the end, his manager instigated the PEP meeting herself which took place on 3 June 2015.

47. The Registrant was told that he needed to complete a support plan by 4 August 2015 for Service User 6 in order for it to be reviewed and filed in time meet the Court’s filing deadline. Despite being emailed about this on 8 July 2015 by the local authority’s solicitor, he failed to complete this on time. The Registrant was aware that the support plan was a substantial and important piece of work and that it would need to be reviewed by his manager before the filing deadline. The Registrant’s delay could potentially have caused delay in the Court proceedings and delayed the planning for Service User 6.

48. The Panel found particular 6(a) and 6(b) proved by the evidence of RW, KB and the documentary evidence.

Particular 7

49. Service User 7 was a three year old boy with a complex medical history. The Registrant was allocated his case on 25 May 2013, and was required to complete disability registration and an initial assessment.

50. The Registrant received reminders during supervision on 4 April 2014 and 9 October 2014. The Panel noted that a letter was sent to Service User 7’s parents dated 24 March 2015 stating that Service User 7 was registered on the Disabilities Register on 24 May 2013. The Panel decided that the date of 24 May 2013 in this letter was a typographical error because of its inconsistency with other information and documents. The Registrant was not allocated to the Service User 7’s case until 25 May 2013. In addition there is a supervision record dated 6 May 2015 which states that disability registration was complete. RW recorded in his investigation report that the registrant did not complete the assessments until 24 March 2015. This was a very substantial delay of over 18 months.

51. The Panel found particular 7(a) and 7(b) proved by the evidence of RW and the documentary evidence.

Particular 8

52. Service User 8 was a four-year-old child who had been diagnosed with autism. There was a history of domestic violence between Service User 8’s parents.

53. The case was allocated to the Registrant on 9 September 2013. The first initial assessment was conducted by the Registrant on 25 March 2014.

54. The Registrant was asked to complete a second initial assessment on 23 September 2014. He had not completed this by 24 April 2015.

55. The Panel found particular 8 proved by the evidence of RW, and the documentary evidence.

Particular 9

56. Service User 9, a four-year-old boy who suffered from autism, was allocated to the Registrant on 19 September 2014. His mother was very keen to have some sort of support from the local authority. The Registrant should have carried out an initial assessment and a disability registration as a matter of urgency. However, the initial assessment was not noted as being completed until 2 June 2015. At this date, the Registrant had not completed the disability registration.

57. As a result of the prolonged delay in the completion of these assessments, the mother of Service User 9 was very unhappy and threatened to make a complaint. As a result of the delay, she had to wait for over a year for the much needed support the family were eligible to have.

58. The Panel found particular 9(a) and 9(b) proved by the evidence of RW, KB and the documentary evidence.

Particular 10

59. Service User 10 was a seven-year-old child with a diagnosis of autism. His mother struggled to cope with him due to his challenging behaviour.

60. Service User 10 was referred for an initial assessment and disability registration. His case was allocated to the Registrant on 14 August 2014. It was still allocated to the Registrant at the time of KB’s report headed “[the Registrant] – Update on allocated cases (17/8/15)”.

61. In a supervision meeting on 17 February 2015 the Registrant was reminded that assessments had still not been completed and that a referral to the overnight respite centre respite centre had not been made. There is no evidence that the Registrant made such a referral.

62. On Service User 10’s records, there were no visits recorded during the time the case was allocated to the Registrant. These should have taken place every six weeks.

63. The Panel found particular 10(a), 10(b) and 10(c) proved by the evidence of RW, KB and the documentary evidence.

Particular 11

64. Service User 11 was an 11-year-old boy with autism. There were concerns regarding his mother's boyfriend who was a Schedule One offender with mental health problems.

65. The Registrant was allocated this case on 20 December 2014 to complete an initial assessment and a disability registration. The Registrant was reminded of the need to complete the above in supervision sessions on 17 March 2015 and 24 April 2015. When he was reminded of this once again on 2 June 2015, he stated he had not been able to make contact with Service User 11’s family despite leaving telephone messages. However, he had made no attempt to use alternative methods to contact them. Neither did he seek assistance from his manager.

66. The Panel found particular 11(a) and 11(b) proved by the evidence of RW and the documentary evidence.

67. The Panel noted that a care package was completed for Service User 11 in August 2015. Although this was not completed in a timely manner, there is evidence that it was completed. Therefore the Panel found particular 11(c) not proved.

Particular 12

68. Service User 12 was an 11-year-old boy with autism. He had no speech and his behaviour was challenging. His mother found it hard to cope so she sought additional support.

69. The Panel noted that there is an inconsistency between RW and KB on the date Service User 12’s case was allocated to the Registrant. The date in RW’s witness statement of January 2015 is an error, and was corrected by him in oral evidence to January 2014. KB states that the case was allocated to the Registrant in August 2014. The date of allocation is not critical to the Panel’s decision because the Registrant’s completion of the work was not carried out in a timely manner, based on either allocation date.

70. The Registrant was to complete an initial assessment and a disability registration. These were not signed off until 29 May 2015.

71. Records in respect of visits were lacking. In his case summary dated 6 August 2015, Mr Registrant recorded that he last visited the family of Service User 12 on 8 September 2014.

72. The Panel found particular 12(a), 12(b) and 12(c) proved by the evidence of RW, KB and the documentary evidence.

Particular 13

73. Service User 13 was a 22-month-old child who had complex health conditions. He had been born prematurely, had a tracheotomy and required suctioning support with breathing every twenty minutes.

74. The case was allocated to the Registrant on 12 December 2014. Service User 13 required a disability registration and an initial assessment.

75. The Registrant was reminded that these assessments were outstanding in supervision on 24 April 2015 and 2 June 2015. An initial assessment was completed on 25 June 2015, but the disability registration was still outstanding in December 2015 when the Registrant left the team.

76. In a telephone note the Registrant recorded on 11 August 2015 that he visited the family home in December 2014. There is no record of any home visits between December 2014 and August 2015.

77. The Panel found particular 13(a), 13(b) and 13(c) proved by the evidence of RW, KB and the documentary evidence.

Particular 14

78. Service User 14 was a 7-year-old boy with high functioning autism. He had limited verbal communication and needed help with self-care and toileting. His mother had longstanding health issues, which made caring for her son very difficult.

79. The case was allocated to the Registrant on 17 November 2014. Concern was raised about the delayed disability registration assessment during supervision on 17 March 2015 and reference was made to the delayed initial assessment in a supervision record on 26 April 2014.

80. The Panel noted a supervision record dated 7 March 2014 which records that there had been a delay and that the Registrant “due to capacity issues [the Registrant] had been unable to complete this work within the timescales”. On the basis of this note the Panel recognised that some of the delay was acceptable due to the pressure of work. However, the work required had still not been completed by August 2015 and remained outstanding when the Registrant left the Council in December 2015. There was therefore delay after March 2014 which was unacceptable and unexplained.

81.  The Panel found particular 14(a) and 14(b) proved by the evidence of RW and the documentary evidence.

Particular 15

82. Service User 15 was a two-year-old girl with autism. She was allocated to the Registrant in May or June 2015 for a disability registration assessment. A home visit took place on 16 June 2015 and a TAC meeting took place on 18 June 2015. However, the Registrant did not write these up until August 2015 when he was emailed and asked to do so.

83. The initial assessment was completed in August 2015, after a request in supervision on 2 June 2015.

84. The Panel found particular 15(a), 15(b)(i) and 15(b)(ii) proved by the evidence of RW, KB and the documentary evidence.

Particular 16

85. Service User 16 was an eight-year-old child with autism. He had limited speech, some behavioural difficulties associated with autism and sleep difficulties.

86. The Registrant was allocated this case on 15 May 2015. He was to carry out a disability registration and initial assessment.

87. A home visit to the family took place on 11 June 2015. The Registrant stated this took place in a case summary dated 8 August 2015. However, he failed to record this on the case recording system or on Service User 16’s file.

88. The initial assessment was not completed until 4 December 2015. The “CRAM Panel” (Care Package Resource Allocation Meeting) did not receive the care package review until 8 December 2015. The completion of the assessment and the submission to CRAM should have taken 45 working days. Instead, they took almost 150 days to complete.

89. The initial assessment completed by the Registrant was inadequate in that it failed to address a number of key issues. After the Registrant left the department, the case was reallocated to a new social worker to obtain further details and assess the impact these issues might have on Service User 16 and his family.

90. The Panel found particular 16(a), 16(b) and 16(c) proved by the evidence of RW, KB and the documentary evidence.


Decision on Grounds:

91. The question of whether the proven facts constitute misconduct or a lack of competence is for the judgment of the Panel and there is no burden or standard of proof.

92. There is no statutory definition of misconduct, but the Panel had regard to the guidance of Lord Clyde in Roylance v GMC (No2) [2001] 1 AC 311: “Misconduct is a word of general effect, involving some act or omission which falls short of what would be proper in the circumstances. The standard of propriety may often be found by reference to the rules and standards ordinarily required to be followed by a …practitioner in the particular circumstances”. The conduct must be serious in that it falls well below the required standards.

93. A lack of competence is a standard of work which is unacceptably low. It will usually be demonstrated by a fair sample of the Registrant’s work. In this case the Panel was satisfied that the proved facts represent a fair sample of the Registrant’s work. The proved facts relate to 16 service users covering a period of approximately two years. In May 2015 the Registrant held a caseload of 18 service users.

94. In the Panel’s judgment there could be an underlying reason for the Registrant’s failures such as a lack of ability in particular skills required for autonomous practice as a social worker. However, the Registrant did not suggest that there was any underlying reason or explanation. He put forward mitigating factors, none of which related to his capability. During the guidance meetings he was offered support such as taking up opportunities to train on topics such as organizing and managing his time, the opportunity to take part in a buddying system to offer him peer support, and counselling. The Registrant did not ask for help or take up any of the suggestions, other than the offer of increased frequency of supervision. The Registrant told RW that he had contacted counselling services, but had decided that counselling would not assist him. If the Registrant had any difficulties, such as a difficulty in time management or prioritising his work, the Panel would have expected him to explain this to RW.

95. The Registrant was an experienced social worker. He had worked at the Council since 2008. He had a pleasant and likeable demeanour and was able to develop a good relationship with families. He was capable of writing reports and assessments. RW confirmed that in some cases he produced work of satisfactory quality. An example of his ability to complete a report is that he completed the support plan required for the court in the case of Service User 6, although this was late and he had some support from KB.

96. The Registrant appeared to be busy at work, but spent much of his time on the telephone or engaged in lengthy home visits. He did not prioritise the completion of reports or file notes. In the Panel’s judgment this was due to the Registrant’s attitude and his approach to his work, rather than a lack of ability. In the Panel’s judgment the particulars found proved did not constitute a lack of competence.

97. The Panel noted the volume of cases in which there were substantial and unexplained delays in completing the required work. The delays took place despite the reminders and despite the supervision, guidance and support provided to the Registrant. Despite receiving very clear management instructions that work was required, the Registrant did not carry out the required tasks. In the Panel’s view this is particularly serious because it is a basic requirement for a social worker to undertake work as instructed by a manager unless there is a good reason or explanation for not doing so. There was no significant improvement even when the Registrant was given an opportunity to catch up with work during a period when no new cases were allocated to him. RW’s evidence was that the extent of delays was well below the standard of the other social workers in the team. Indeed the Panel note that the Registrant accepted that his output was below the accepted standards. There was also a significant pattern of failure to undertake or record home visits in a range of cases where visits were required.

98. The Panel also regarded the failure to inform a manager that Service User 1 was missing as serious because the Registrant knew that this was required and was essential to safeguard the child.

99. The Panel considered the impact of the Registrant’s failures. Although some families were very patient, there were complaints and concerns raised about the Registrant’s failures by family members and, in the case of Service User 3, the school. There was actual harm to service users in some of the cases where the families were entitled to services, but were not provided with those services for lengthy periods. There was the potential for further harm such as family breakup or a family being unable to care for the child so that the child needed to be taken into care. The Registrant’s failures also had the potential to cause wider harm. For example the families or other service users might lose confidence in the local authority and not seek help required. The Registrant’s failures also placed pressure on his managers who were required to repeatedly make the same requests for work to be carried out.

100. The Panel also considered the standards applicable to the Registrant at the relevant time. The Panel found a breach of the HCPC Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics (2012) standards 1, 7 and 10 and a breach of the Standards of Proficiency for social workers in England (2012) standards 1, 2, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 15.

101. There were some mitigating circumstances put forward by the Registrant to RW including difficulties with the Care First recording system. However, the mitigation put forward did not significantly lessen the Registrant’s culpability for his failures.

102. In the Panel’s judgment the Registrant’s failures fell far below the standards expected of a social worker. They were sufficiently serious to constitute misconduct.


Decision on impairment

103. The Panel applied the guidance in the HCPTS Practice Note “Finding that Fitness to Practise is impaired” and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel considered the Registrant’s fitness to practise at today’s date.

104. The Panel first considered the personal component, which is the Registrant’s current competence and behaviour. The Panel has no information about the Registrant’s current circumstances.

105. In the Panel’s view the Registrant’s conduct is not easily remediable. The Registrant was given a lengthy period of time to improve, but did not do so. There was a pattern of repeated failures despite efforts by RW and KB to provide the Registrant with guidance, reminders, and offers of support.

106. There is no evidence that the Registrant has taken any steps to remediate his past misconduct.

107. The Panel considered the level of the Registrant’s insight. During the guidance and capability procedures the Registrant accepted that his practice did not meet the required standards. However, this acceptance did not lead to any sustained or significant change. The Registrant did not demonstrate insight into the impact of his failures on the service users and their families, colleagues and managers, the local authority or the profession. The Registrant has not engaged with the HCPC at all and has demonstrated no remorse. The Panel’s view was that the Registrant’s insight was limited.

108. Taking into account the Registrant’s limited insight and the pattern of repeated failures, the Panel decided that there was a high risk of repetition of similar misconduct. There is therefore an ongoing risk of harm to members of the public.

109. The Panel concluded that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired on the basis of the personal component.

110. The Panel next considered the wider public interest considerations including the need to protect the public, uphold standards of conduct and behaviour, and to maintain confidence in the profession and the regulatory process. The Panel has identified risk to members of the public in this case. The Panel also considered that public confidence in the profession has been damaged by the Registrant’s failures in this case. His failures led to complaints and the potential for families to be deterred from seeking help from the Local Authority. The failures also had the potential to bring the Local Authority into disrepute. For example the Local Authority was at risk of complaints being made by MPs or being censured by the court for the late filing of documents.

111. The Panel also decided that the nature and volume of the Registrant’s failures and the repetition of the same failures were so serious that the reputation of the profession would be undermined and the regulatory process would be undermined if the Panel did not make a finding that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired.

112. The Panel therefore concluded that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired on the basis of the public component.

Decision on sanction

113. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and applied the guidance in the HCPTS Indicative Sanctions Policy (ISP). The purpose of a sanction is not to punish the Registrant, though it may have that effect. The purpose of a sanction is to protect the public. The Panel should also give appropriate weight to the wider public interest, which includes the deterrent effect to other registrants and the need to maintain public confidence in the profession and the regulatory process.

114. The Panel applied the principle of proportionality, balancing the Registrant’s interests against the public interest.

115. The Panel identified the following aggravating circumstances:
• actual harm to service users and the potential for harm;

• repeated failures over a sustained period of time;

• no engagement in the HCPC process and no expression of remorse;

• a high risk of repetition.

116. The Panel identified the following mitigating circumstances:
• the Registrant’s acceptance that his work fell below the required standards;

• the difficulties with the Care First system and the pressure of work.

117. Although the difficulties with the Care First system did not excuse the Registrant’s failures, the Panel decided that they were relevant as mitigating factors. RW confirmed that there were difficulties with the Care First system and that one of the Registrant’s case had been time consuming during part of the period covered by the Allegation.

118. At all stages in its deliberations the Panel took into account the Registrant’s interests and balanced those interests against the need to protect the public and the wider public interest considerations.

119. The Panel considered the sanctions in ascending order of severity. The Panel decided that taking No Action, Mediation or a Caution Order would not be sufficient to protect the public. The Registrant would be free to practise without restriction which would expose members of the public to the risk of harm. They would also be insufficient to mark the seriousness of the Registrant’s conduct.

120. The Panel next considered a Conditions of Practice Order. The ISP guidance is that a Conditions of Practice Order is unlikely to be suitable where the Registrant has failed to engage in the fitness to practise process and where there are serious or persistent overall failings. Conditions of practice are also likely to be insufficient and inappropriate where there is a lack of commitment by the Registrant to comply with conditions. In the light of the evidence and facts found a Conditions of Practice Order is not appropriate. The Registrant has not engaged with the HCPC and has demonstrated no commitment.

121. Further, the Panel considered that conditions would not provide sufficient protection for the public. The Registrant’s level of performance was deficient even when he was subject to supervision and monitoring of his practice. This indicates that conditions would not be sufficient to raise the level of the Registrant’s work to the required standard.

122. The Panel next considered the sanction of a Suspension Order. This sanction provides a high degree of protection for the public because the Registrant is not able to practice as a Social Worker.

123. The Panel considered the Registrant’s interests. Although the Registrant has not engaged with the HCPC, the Panel considered that the Registrant may continue to have an interest in practising as a social worker. Although the Panel has found that the Registrant’s misconduct is difficult to remedy, this is not a case involving a behavioural matter such as dishonesty or sexual misconduct. The Panel has not made a finding that the Registrant’s attitude will prevent him from remedying his past misconduct. This is also not a case where the Registrant has denied the matters alleged against him or blamed others. To the contrary, he accepted in the capability process that his performance did not meet the required standards.

124. The Panel therefore decided that there was a prospect that the Registrant could remediate his past misconduct. The first step in that process would require him to engage with the HCPC and to demonstrate to a Review Panel his understanding of the seriousness of his past misconduct and his willingness to take the necessary remedial steps.

125. The Panel carefully considered whether a Suspension Order would be sufficient to mark the seriousness of the Registrant’s misconduct, taking into account the wider public interest considerations. The Panel decided that a Suspension Order would have a sufficient deterrent effect and would be sufficient to maintain confidence in the profession and the regulatory process. Members of the public would recognise that the Panel has taken into account all the circumstances, including the prospect that the Registrant might engage with the HCPC in a process which would remediate his past misconduct and reduce the risk of repetition so that there is no ongoing risk to the public.

126. The Panel gave serious consideration to the sanction of last resort of a Striking Off Order, but decided that it would be disproportionate. The Panel took into account the limited insight the Registrant has demonstrated and the fact that there is a lack of evidence of the underlying reason for the Registrant’s poor performance. RW explained in his evidence that he was unable to identify the reasons the Registrant was not able to demonstrate sustained improvement in his performance. The Panel also took into account the evidence of RW about the Registrant’s positive qualities as a social worker, particularly his ability to engage with families. It is not in the public interest that a qualified and experienced social worker is removed from the register if there is a prospect that the social worker will be able to remediate past misconduct and return to safe practice.

127. The Panel decided that the Suspension Order should be for the maximum period of 12 months. The maximum period is appropriate in this case to mark the seriousness of the Registrant’s conduct and to give the Registrant time to reflect on the decision of the Panel.

128. The Panel therefore decided that the appropriate and proportionate sanction is a Suspension Order for a period of 12 months.

129. The Suspension Order will be reviewed before it expires. A reviewing Panel may be assisted by:
• the Registrant’s engagement with the HCPC and attendance at the review hearing;
• evidence from the Registrant of his reflection on the decision of the Panel and any reflective writing he has undertaken;
• references or testimonials relating to any employment or voluntary position undertaken by the Registrant.


 

Order

The Registrar is directed to suspend the name of Robert St Elmo Cumberbatch from the register for a period of 12 months from the date this order takes effect.

Notes

The order imposed today will apply from 21 September 2017 (the operative date).  An Interim Suspension Order was imposed to cover the appeal period. 

Hearing history

History of Hearings for Mr Roger St Elmo Cumberbatch

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
22/08/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended
03/04/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Hearing has not yet been held