Mrs Christine M Erskine
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Service of Notice
1. The notice of this hearing was sent to the Registrant at her address as it appeared in the register on 19 July 2017. The notice contained the date, time and venue of today’s hearing.
2. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor, and is satisfied that notice of today’s hearing has been served in accordance with Rule 6(1) of the Conduct and Conduct Committee Rules 2003 (the “Rules”).
Proceeding in the absence of the Registrant
3. The Panel then went on to consider whether to proceed in the absence of the Registrant pursuant to Rule 11 of the Rules. In doing so, it considered the submissions of Mr Demissie on behalf of the HCPC.
4. Mr Demissie submitted that the HCPC has taken all reasonable steps to serve the notice on the Registrant. He further submitted that the Registrant has engaged with the HCPC in relation to the application for voluntary removal, and that an adjournment would serve no useful purpose. The Registrant’s last contact with the HCPC was when she signed and returned the Voluntary Removal Agreement. He reminded the Panel that there was a public interest in this matter being dealt with expeditiously.
5. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. He advised that, if the Panel is satisfied that all reasonable efforts have been made to notify the Registrant of the hearing, then the Panel had the discretion to proceed in the absence of the Registrant.
6. The Legal Assessor also referred the Panel to the case of GMC v Adeogba and Visvardis  EWCA Civ 162 and advised that the Adeogba case reminded the Panel that its primary objective is the protection of the public and of the public interest. In that regard, the case of Adeogba was clear that “where there is good reason not to proceed, the case should be adjourned; where there is not, however, it is only right that it should proceed”.
7. It was clear, from the principles derived from case law, that the Panel was required to ensure that fairness and justice were maintained when deciding whether or not to proceed in a Registrant’s absence.
8. The Panel was satisfied that all reasonable efforts had been made by the HCPC to notify the Registrant of the hearing. It was also satisfied that the Registrant is aware of the hearing.
9. In deciding whether to exercise its discretion to proceed in the absence of the Registrant, the Panel took into consideration the HCPC practice note entitled ‘Proceeding in the Absence of a Registrant’. The Panel weighed its responsibility for public protection and the expeditious disposal of the case with the Registrant’s right to a fair hearing.
10. In reaching its decision the Panel took into account the following:
• The Registrant has not made an application to adjourn today’s hearing
• There is an implicit expectation by the Registrant that the hearing today proceeds in her absence due to the Registrant’s request, and agreement to the voluntary removal, and the nature of the proceedings today.
• There is a public interest that this matter is dealt with expeditiously.
11. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant had voluntarily absented herself from the hearing and that no disrespect is intended. There is a distinction between a case where the Registrant is clearly aware of the hearing date, and one where there has been no response from the Registrant. It determined that it was unlikely that an adjournment would result in the Registrant’s attendance at a later date. Having weighed the public interest for expedition in cases against the Registrant’s own interest, the Panel decided to proceed in the Registrant’s absence.
Proceeding in private
12. The Panel heard that matters relating to the Registrant’s health were likely to be discussed as part of this application. Mr Demissie submitted that it was appropriate that parts of the hearing be held in private where the Registrant’s health was to be discussed. The Panel accepted the Legal Assessor’s advice and it noted Rule 10(1)(a) of the Health and Care Professions Council (Conduct and Competence Committee) Procedure Rules 2003 (“Procedural Rules”) whereby matters pertaining to the private life of the Registrant, the complainant, any person giving evidence or of any Patient or Client should be heard in private. The Panel agreed the parts of the hearing, where reference was to be made to the Registrant’s health, should be heard in private.
13. The Registrant was employed as a Speech and Language Therapist by the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust (the “Trust”). In April 2016, the Trust informed the HCPC that the Registrant was subject to their capability process in relation to her practice. They also provided the HCPC with documentation regarding that capability process as well as relevant clinical records.
14. The Trust then informed the HCPC that they had discontinued their formal capability process against the Registrant because she had permission to retire on ground of ill health. This was due to the medical evidence that they had received in the course of their investigation.
15. The Panel considered the submissions of Mr Demissie on behalf of the HCPC. He outlined the circumstances that led to the referral to the HCPC, and submitted that a Voluntary Removal Agreement was the appropriate method of finalising this case. In her written correspondence, the Registrant fully admitted the factual particulars and that her fitness to practice was impaired because of her health. The HCPC was satisfied that the Registrant fully understood the effect of the Voluntary Removal Agreement and that granting the application would not compromise the protection of the public or have any detrimental effect on the wider public interest.
16. The Panel had sight of the email from the Registrant, dated 01 February 2017, from which it is clear that that she has retired due to her ill health, and no longer wishes to practise as a Speech and Language Therapist. As a result she has requested voluntary removal from the HCPC register.
17. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and considered all of the evidence presented. The Panel has applied its own judgement to the application to withdraw the allegation and to discontinue these proceedings. The Panel has also had regard to the HCPTS’s Practice Note on “Disposal of Cases by Consent”.
18. The Panel noted that the HCPC is satisfied that it would be meeting its statutory objective of protecting the public and the public interest, if the Registrant was permitted to be removed from the Register on similar terms to those which would apply if she were subject to a striking off order under article 29(5) of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001. The Panel noted from the documents that the Investigating Committee had concluded that there was a case to answer. The Panel is satisfied that the Registrant has fully admitted the factual allegation.
19. The Panel had before it a Voluntary Removal Agreement that had been agreed between the HCPC and the Registrant. It was signed and executed by both parties in terms of which the Registrant admitted the allegations, which had been made against her. She agreed that she will resign from the HCPC Register on the terms and conditions fully set out in that Agreement. The Registrant also signed a Declaration that there was no other matter of which the Registrant was aware which might give rise to any other allegation.
20. The Panel firstly considered whether there were any factors that would make it undesirable to allow the allegation to be concluded on the consensual basis set out in the Voluntary Removal Agreement. It is clear from the medical evidence and the personal statement from the Registrant, that the Registrant’s health is the underlying issue that has led to the issues. It is also clear that her health matters are on-going and have led directly to her retirement on grounds of ill health. The Registrant has indicated that, as a result, she no longer wishes to remain in the profession. Taking the above into consideration, the Panel concluded that there are no overriding public interest factors that would require this matter to go to a full hearing.
21. The Panel is also cognisant that it was open to it to transfer this case to the Health Committee because of the underlying health issue, but were of the view that course of action would serve no useful purpose and would in fact precipitate further unnecessary delay. That would neither be in the public interest, nor in the interests of the Registrant and the HCPC. The matter is therefore better dealt with by this Committee.
22. The Panel is aware that if the Registrant seeks to return to the HCPC Register at any time in the future, her application would be treated as if she had been struck off as a result of the allegation.
23. In all the circumstances, the Panel is satisfied that both the public and the public interest would be adequately protected by the terms of the agreement reached between the Registrant and the HCPC in as much as the Registrant will henceforth be prevented from practising as a Speech and Language Therapist and, should she wish to apply to return to the Register, she will be treated as though she had been struck off.
24. Furthermore, the Panel is satisfied that this method of finalising this case is appropriate and proportionate, and is jointly in the interest of the public, the HCPC and the Registrant.
History of Hearings for Mrs Christine M Erskine
|Date||Panel||Hearing type||Outcomes / Status|
|01/09/2017||Conduct and Competence Committee||Final Hearing||Voluntary Removal agreed|