Kelly Anne Wheldrick

: Social worker

: SW64616

: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing:10:00 12/09/2017 End: 17:00 15/09/2017

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

: Conduct and Competence Committee
: Suspended

Allegation

As Amended at Final Hearing:

 

While registered and employed as a Social Worker by Wakefield

Metropolitan District Council, you:

 

1. Accessed Service User A’s social care record without a professional reason for doing so, on or around:

a) 25 September 2014;

 

b) 2 October 2015;

 

c) 23 December 2015.

 

2. Accessed Service User B’s social care record without a professional reason for doing so, on or around 2 October 2015.

 

3. Between approximately 2014 -2015, accessed information relating to the address of a service user connected to Service User A, without a professional reason for doing so.

 

4. On dates between approximately 1 August 2014 and 8 January 2016, accessed and/or updated the following service user social care records without a professional reason for doing so:

a) Service User C

 

b) Service User D

 

c) Service User E

 

d) Service User F

 

e) Service User G

 

f) Service User H

 

g) Service User I

 

h) Service User J

 

5. The matters as described in paragraphs 1 - 4 constitute misconduct.

 

6. By reason of your misconduct, your fitness to practise is impaired.

Finding

Preliminary Matters:

 

i) Notice

 

1. The Panel heard that notice in respect of this hearing was sent by first class post to Mrs Wheldrick’s registered address on 29 June 2017 in accordance with rules 3 and 6 of the Conduct and Competence Procedure Rules 2003.

 

2. The panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and determined that the notice had been served in accordance with the Rules.

 

ii) Proceeding in the absence of the Registrant

 

3. Ms Sheridan, on behalf of the HCPC, invited the Panel to proceed in the absence of the Registrant. She referred the Panel to the guidance contained in the HCPTS Practice Note on Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant and submitted that no response had been received from the Registrant to the Notice of Hearing. Further, she submitted that it was appropriate for the Panel to exercise its discretion to proceed on the basis that Mrs Wheldrick had chosen not to engage with the process and had waived the right to appear. She pointed out that there had been no request from the Registrant for an adjournment and submitted that the public interest in expeditious disposal of the allegation outweighed any disadvantage to Mrs Wheldrick in proceeding in her absence. In addition, she informed the Panel that two witnesses were present for the purpose of giving oral evidence today.

 

4. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor who reminded it of the guidance provided in the cases of R v Jones [2002] UKHL5, Adeogba v the General Medical Council [2016] EWCA Civ 162 and Davies v HCPC [2016] EWHC 1593 (Admin).

 

5. The Panel recognised that the discretion to proceed in the absence of a Registrant is one which must be exercised with the utmost care and caution and that its decision should be guided by the overarching objective to protect the public. It noted that it would run counter to that objective if a practitioner could effectively frustrate the process by deliberately failing to engage.

 

6. In reaching its decision, the Panel had regard to the nature and circumstances of the registrant’s behaviour in absenting herself; in particular, whether the behaviour was voluntary and so plainly waived the right to be present. The Panel balanced the public interest in the timely disposal of the allegation with the disadvantage to Mrs Wheldrick should the hearing proceed in her absence. It also noted the inconvenience to the two witnesses who were in attendance if it were not to proceed today.

 

7. The Panel had no reason to believe that, if it were to adjourn the hearing, Mrs Wheldrick would attend on the next occasion.

 

8. On the basis of the information before it, the Panel concluded that Mrs Wheldrick had deliberately absented herself and waived the right to be present. It determined that it would be fair and in the interests of justice to proceed in the absence of the Registrant.

 

iii) Application to conduct parts of the hearing in private

 

9. Ms Sheridan referred the Panel to the HCPTS Practice Note on Conducting Hearings in Private and to Rule 10 (1) (a) of the Conduct and Competence Procedure Rules 2003.

 

10. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

 

11. The Panel had careful regard to the provisions of the Practice Note on Conducting Hearings in Private and to Rule 10 (1) (a) of the Conduct and Competence Procedure Rules 2003 which provides:

At any hearing the proceedings shall be held in public unless the Committee is satisfied that, in the interests of justice or for the protection of the private life of the registrant,…or of any patient or client, the public should be excluded from all or part of the hearing.

 

12. The Panel was satisfied that, for the protection of the private life of the Registrant the public should be excluded from those parts of the hearing. 

 

iv) Application to amend Particular 2

 

13. The Panel drew Ms Sheridan’s attention to an apparent error in Particular 2 which referred to the period on or around 2 October 2016 when Mrs Wheldrick was no longer employed by Wakefield Council.

 

14. Ms Sheridan informed the Panel that this was a typographical error and the correct period was on or around 2 October 2015. She applied to amend the the Particular in order to correct the typographical error.

 

15. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. It accepted that this was a typographical error and that there would be no injustice to Mrs Wheldrick if it allowed the application.

 

16. The Panel agreed to the amendment so that Particular 2 would now refer to 2015 and not 2016.

 

 

Background:

 

17. Mrs Wheldrick was employed as a Social Worker by Wakefield Council within their Shared Lives team from 23 April 2014. Previously she was employed by Wakefield Council in two Assessment and Child Protection teams from 24 August 2010 to 22 April 2014.

 

18. On 8 January 2016 the Team Manager of the Complex Care Needs team identified that Mrs Wheldrick had on three separate occasions accessed the record of Service User A held on the Care Director system. Care Director is the electronic case record system used by Wakefield Council for all the social services departments within the authority. It holds all the referrals made to social services and records information relating to service users.

 

19. The Complex Care Needs team manager noticed this accessing of Service User A’s records when she was undertaking an audit of Service User A’s record prior to locking the record down. When questioned, Mrs Wheldrick admitted that she had accessed Service User A’s record on Care Director and also disclosed that she had accessed the Care Director record of a service user connected to Service User A.  

 

20. An investigation report was commissioned and during the investigation it was found that Mrs Wheldrick had also accessed the record of Service User B as well as records pertaining to other service users when she did not have an obvious work reason for doing so.

 

21. Mrs Wheldrick resigned from her position on 12 July 2016. She has not engaged with the HCPC in relation to the current allegation.

 

22. Ms Sheridan opened and summarised the Council’s case.

 

23. Ms Sheridan said there can be no suggestion that Ms Wheldrick would not have been familiar with Wakefield Council’s Use of Electronic Equipment Policy dated January 2014. She told the Panel that Mrs Wheldrick’s supervision notes confirm that she was given a copy of the Electronic Equipment Policy on 27 June 2014 and that Mrs Wheldrick admitted in her interview on 6 April 2016 that she had been given the relevant policy to review on a regular basis and that when she turned on her work computer it would remind her to ensure she read and understood the council’s guidance on the use of electronic equipment.                                              

 

24. On the Council’s behalf the panel heard evidence from two witnesses. They were:

 

1. DM who conducted the Wakefield Council investigation

2. ES who was Mrs Wheldrick’s manager when she was employed by Wakefield Council in the Assessment and Child Protection team.

 

25. The Panel found DM to be a credible, reliable and competent witness. Although there were occasions when she felt unable to answer questions put to her, the Panel considered that she had attempted to assist it with regard to matters which were within the remit of her own investigation.

 

26. The Panel found ES to be a helpful, clear and reliable witness who was able to amplify or elaborate on issues when asked to do so.

 

27. The Panel had careful regard to the exhibits referred to by the witnesses. These included:

• The records of the Wakefield Council Investigation interviews

• Audits of Care Director records in relation to the Service Users referred to in particulars 1-4

• Relevant Employee Codes of Conduct

• Wakefield Council’s Use of Electronic Equipment Policy dated January 2014. 

 

28. The Panel considered the Registrant’s written statement for her disciplinary hearing dated 8 August 2016 and also her letter of resignation dated 12 July 2016 which was put before the Panel at the request of the Legal Assessor.

 

Decision on Facts:

 

29. The Panel applied the principles that the burden of proving the facts is on the Council, that the Registrant is not required to prove anything and that a fact alleged is only to be found proven if the Panel is satisfied on the balance of probabilities that it is correct.

 

Particular 1 - Accessed Service User A’s social care record without a professional reason for doing so, on or around:

a) 25 September 2014

b) 2 October 2015

c) 23 December 2015

 

Found proved. 

 

30. The Panel noted that the relevant Employee Codes of Conduct prohibit the use of any information obtained in the course of employment for personal gain or benefit and that material stored on the Council’s systems is confidential and subject to the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998.

 

31. The Panel noted that on the morning of the 2 October 2015 Mrs Wheldrick had signed to indicate that she had read the policy  but had gone on to access Service User A’s record on the same day and without having obtained permission to do so.

 

32. The Panel satisfied itself that each instance of accessing Service User A’s record was identified in the relevant Audit of Care Director records and that this was contrary to Wakefield Council’s Use of Electronic Equipment Policy dated January 2014. It accepted the evidence of DM and ES and that Mrs Wheldrick had no professional reason for accessing Service User A’s records on any of those occasions and had not sought management permission to do so.

 

33. Further, the Panel noted that in the course of her investigation interview Mrs Wheldrick admitted that she had accessed the records on those occasions and that she had no professional reason for doing so.

 

34. The Panel also noted that in her written statement for her disciplinary hearing dated 8 August 2016, Mrs Wheldrick stated: “…….I accept that I did not have a legitimate work reason to access these records.”

 

Particular 2, as amended - Accessed Service User B’s social care record without a professional reason for doing so, on or around 2 October 2015. Found proved.

 

35. The Panel was satisfied that Mrs Wheldrick’s accessing of Service User B’s record was identified in the relevant Audit of Care Director records. It noted that this was contrary to the relevant Employee Codes of Conduct and Wakefield Council’s Use of Electronic Equipment Policy dated January 2014. It accepted the evidence of DM and ES that Mrs Wheldrick had no professional reason for accessing Service User B’s record and found this fact

proved.

 

Particular 3 – Between approximately 2014-2015, accessed information relating to the address of a service user connected to Service User A, without a professional reason for doing so. Found proved.

 

36. The Panel received no evidence that an Audit of Care Director records had been carried out in order to identify the service user connected to Service User A referred to in this particular. It noted that the only evidence in respect of this Particular had been disclosed by Mrs Wheldrick herself. During the course of her investigation interview she explained her reason for accessing the record of an individual conneted to Service User A and stated:

 

“I shouldn’t have done it. I know I shouldn’t have done it. As soon as I’d done it, I knew I shouldn’t have done it.”

 

37. The panel had no reason to doubt this account and found this fact proved. 

Particular 4 - On dates between approximately 1 August 2014 and 8 January 2016, accessed and / or updated the following service user social care records without a professional reason for doing so – Found proved in respect of accessing but not updating. 

d) Service User C

e) Service User D

f) Service User E

g) Service User F

h) Service User G

i) Service User H

j) Service User I

k) Service User J

 

43. In respect of the allegation that Mrs Wheldrick accessed these records the Panel found Particular 4 proved. However, it received no evidence that Mrs Wheldrick had updated any of these records and for this reason found that element of Particular 4 not proved.

 

44. The Panel noted that the allegations of accessing the records specified in Particular 4 came to light as a result of an exercise in “data cleansing of the Care Director audit’.

 

45. The Panel noted that Service Users C, D, E, F, G and H were all connected to Child Protection cases previously dealt with by the registrant during her time in the Child Protection Team. During her interview she accepted that she had accessed former child protection cases to see how the service users were getting on but said that she had never been told she could not do so.

 

46. The panel noted that the registrant could not explain why she had accessed the records of Service Users I or J, and that her view was that she would have had no reason to do so.

 

47. The Panel had regard to Mrs Wheldrick’s written statement for her disciplinary hearing dated 8 August 2016 in which she stated:

“I had never been told I could not access these records and it was common practice for Social Workers to go back to cases and check on them within both the Assessment and Child Protection Team I had previously worked in. However I accept that I should not have accessed these records and confirm I did not have a legitimate work reason to do so. I can offer that I did not discuss this matter with my manager and former manager and now realise that I should have clarified my position within Shared Lives. I am truly sorry for my actions.”

 

48. The Panel recognised that both DM and EM had testified that it was not their experience that Social Workers routinely accessed records of Service Users for whom they no longer had responsibility.

 

49. In relation to Service User’s I and J, no evidence was put before the Panel that these were previous cases connected to, or allocated to Mrs Wheldrick.  Mrs Wheldrick did not recognise them and gave no explanation as to why she would have accessed them.  The Panel noted the evidence of DM and EM that it was possible to access records inadvertently.  The Panel noted however, that Mrs Wheldrick had accessed the records of Service User I on six occasions over an 18 month period according to the audit and concluded therefore, that this was not accidental.  In contrast, the care record of Service User J was accessed only on one occasion and in the circumstances, the Panel was unable to conclude that Mrs Wheldrick had deliberately accessed the records of Service User J.

 

50. The Panel received no evidence to indicate that any of the information acquired by Mrs Wheldrick through the accessing of any of the records specified in Particulars 1-4 had been shared with others.

 

 

Decision on Grounds:

 

51. The Panel had careful regard to the submissions of Ms Sheridan and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

 

52.  Ms Sheridan referred the Panel to the Privy Council case of Roylance v GMC (No2) [2000] 1 AC 311 in which Lord Clyde stated: “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.“

 

53. Ms Sheridan submitted that Mrs Wheldrick had fallen well below the standards expected of a Social Worker in that she had breached standards 1, 2, 3 and 13 of the HCPC Standards of conduct, performance and ethics, and had breached Wakefield Council’s Use of Electronic Equipment Policy dated January 2014 as well as her own Employee code of conduct.

 

54. The Panel bore in mind that not every breach of the Standards and not every falling short of what would be proper in the circumstances will constitute misconduct; the breach must be serious, or as Elias LJ put it in R (on the Application of Remedy UK Ltd) v GMC [2010] EWHC 1245 (Admin) “sufficiently serious.... that it can properly be described as misconduct going to fitness to practise.”

 

55. The Panel found that Mrs Wheldrick was in clear breach of the following Standards of the HCPC’s Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics:

“1.You must act in the best interests of service users.

2. You must respect the confidentiality of service users. … You must only use information about a service user”

• to continue to care for that person

• for purposes where that person has given you permission to use the information or the law allows you to do so.

 

You must also keep to the conditions of any relevant data-protection laws and always follow best practice for handling confidential information….

13 You must …make sure that your behaviour does not damage the public’s confidence in you or your profession.”

 

56. With regard to Mrs Wheldrick’s accessing of Service User A’s records as found proved in relation to Particular 1, the Panel was fully aware of Mrs Wheldrick’s stated reasons for doing so. However, it concluded that her actions were an abuse of her position of trust as a social worker. In particular:

 

• She accessed the records, knowing that she should not have done so

 

• She had not sought and obtained permission to access the records when she was well aware that in those circumstances she should have done so

 

• Her actions compromised the confidentiality of the information in the records and breached Service User A’s right to privacy

 

• Her actions put her in possession of information that she would not otherwise have had

 

• She was aware that there was open to her a simple alternative method of obtaining the information she sought without accessing the records

 

• Any unauthorised accessing of confidential records carries with it a risk that information contained in the records will be passed on to others. The fact that there is no evidence to suggest that Mrs Wheldrick had passed on any such information does not reduce the seriousness of her actions.

 

57. With regard to Mrs Wheldrick’s accessing of Service User B’s records as found proved in Particular 2, the Panel noted that this accessing of Service User B’s record coincided with the same date and time that Mrs Wheldrick accessed the record of Service User A. It also noted that in interview Mrs Wheldrick denied being aware that she had accessed Service User B’s record. Further, in her written statement to the disciplinary hearing she stated:

 

“…I can honestly state that I have no recollection of doing this.…I accept that I did not have a legitimate work reason to access this record.”

 

Accordingly, the Panel could not be satisfied on the balance of probabilities that this had been deliberate. For this reason the panel could not conclude that her actions demonstrated a falling short so serious as to constitute misconduct going to fitness to practise.

 

58. With regard to Mrs Wheldrick’s accessing of the records referred to in Particular 3, the Panel had in mind her stated reasons for doing so as well as her candid admission in her statement to the disciplinary hearing that “As soon as I’d done it, I knew I shouldn’t have done it.” The Panel concluded that no matter how powerful her concerns about the then current address of the individual concerned her action in accessing the record was an abuse of her position of trust as a Social Worker. As with its findings in relation to Particular 1 the Panel found that:

 

• Mrs Wheldrick’s actions compromised the confidentiality of the information in the records and breached the individual’s right to privacy

 

• Her actions put her in possession of information that she would not otherwise have had

• She was aware that there was open to her a simple alternative method of obtaining the information she sought without accessing the records

 

• Any unauthorised accessing of confidential records carries with it a risk that information contained in the records will be passed on to others. The fact that there is no evidence to suggest that Mrs Wheldrick had passed on any such information does not reduce the seriousness of her actions.

 

59. With regard to Mrs Wheldrick’s accessing of the records referred to in Particular 4, the Panel had regard to its earlier finding that, in relation to her accessing of the record of Service User J on a single occasion, it was unable to conclude that Mrs Wheldrick had deliberately accessed the record. For this reason the panel could not conclude that her action in respect of that record demonstrated a falling short so serious as to constitute misconduct going to fitness to practise.

 

60. However, with regard to the other records referred to in Particular 4, the Panel noted that Mrs Wheldrick had accessed these over a considerable period of time on multiple occasions. The Panel had at the forefront of its thinking her explanation for her actions referred to earlier and her candid admission that she had no professional reason for doing so. Nevertheless, it concluded that as an experienced Social Worker who had received appropriate training in the policy and code requirements with regard to accessing confidential records, Mrs Wheldrick knew, or should have known, what was expected of her but went on to repeatedly access these records anyway.

 

61. As with its findings in relation to earlier particulars the Panel found that:

• Mrs Wheldrick’s actions compromised the confidentiality of the information in the records and breached the individuals’ rights to privacy

 

• Her actions put her in possession of information that she would not otherwise have had

 

• Any unauthorised accessing of confidential records carries with it a risk that information contained in the records will be passed on to others. The fact that there is no evidence to suggest that Mrs Wheldrick had passed on any such information does not reduce the seriousness of her actions.

 

62. The Panel had no doubt that in accessing service users’ records on the Care Director system when she had no work-related reason to do so, Mrs Wheldrick’s actions had fallen well short of what would have been proper in the circumstances. Her actions would undermine public confidence in the security and confidentiality of highly sensitive information held by Wakefield Council and in the trustworthiness of the profession. The Public rightly expects that the records of service users will be kept secure and confidential. Any actions which undermine that expectation are likely to seriously damage public confidence and trust in the profession and the confidentiality of its record systems. In undermining that trust and confidence Mrs Wheldrick’s actions were so serious as to call into question her fitness to practise as a Registered Social Worker.

 

63. For the reasons set out above, the panel was in no doubt that Mrs Wheldrick’s actions in accessing the records referred in Particulars 1, 3 and 4 (with the exception of the record of Service User J) did constitute misconduct.

 

Decision on Impairment:

 

64. The Panel then went on to consider whether Mrs Wheldrick’s fitness to practise is impaired by reason of her misconduct. It had careful regard to all the evidence before it and to the submissions of Ms Sheridan as well as Mrs Wheldrick’s responses to questions during the course of the Trust’s investigation, her written statement for her disciplinary hearing dated 8 August 2016 and her letter of resignation dated 12 July 2016.

 

65. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and had careful regard to the HCPTS Practice Note entitled Finding that Fitness to Practise is “Impaired”.

 

66. Having found that Mrs Wheldrick’s misconduct had breached key standards of the HCPC’s Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics as set out above and that her misconduct would bring the profession into disrepute the Panel had no doubt that Mrs Wheldrick’s fitness to practise had been impaired by reason of her misconduct.

 

67. The Panel then went on to consider whether Mrs Wheldrick’s fitness to practise is currently impaired. In addressing the personal component of impairment, the Panel asked itself whether Mrs Wheldrick is liable, now and in the future, to repeat misconduct of the kind found proved. In reaching its decision the Panel had particular regard to the issues of insight, remediation and Mrs Wheldrick’s history.

 

68. The Panel noted that in the case of CHRE v NMC & Grant [2011] EWHC 927 (Admin) Mrs Justice Cox stated:

“When considering whether or not fitness to practise is currently impaired, the level of insight shown by the practitioner is central to a proper determination of that issue.” 

 

69. The Panel also noted Silber J’s guidance in Cohen v GMC [2008] EWHC 581 (Admin) that panels should take account of:

 

• Whether the conduct which led to the charge is easily remediable;

• Whether it has been remedied; and

• Whether it is highly unlikely to be repeated.

 

70. The Panel noted that in her letter of resignation dated 12 July 2016 Mrs Wheldrick had stated:

“Since attending the disciplinary investigation on 06/04/2016 I have had time to reflect on my actions. … I am truly sorry for these acts and errors of judgment. …I have had the time to further reflect on my actions through the counselling sessions….. The sessions have enabled me to reach a conclusion that regardless of the outcome of a disciplinary hearing I need to take some time away from my role as a social worker … Through counselling I have been able to explore my feelings and would be more able to recognise in the future the early signs of how stress and anxiety may be affecting my cognitive reasoning and thought processes.”

 

71. The Panel considered that while Mrs Wheldrick had clearly lacked insight at the time of her actions, she had acknowledged the breach of trust between her and her employer. Further, during the course of the Wakefield investigation and in her reflective statement and letter of resignation, she demonstrated her understanding that her actions should not have occurred and expressed her remorse that they had done so.

 

72. However, Mrs Wheldrick has yet to evidence her full understanding of the importance of maintaining the confidentiality of records, regardless of whether the information is shared. In particular she has yet to evidence her understanding of the impact, or potential impact, of her breaches on the individuals whose confidentiality she compromised and on public confidence in the profession.

 

73. In the circumstances, the Panel was able to conclude that Mrs Wheldrick has demonstrated only partial insight into her failings.

 

74. The Panel considered that, in principle, Mrs Wheldrick’s failings are easily remediable. However, her partial insight has resulted in insufficient remediation.

 

75. The Panel noted that Mrs Wheldrick has reflected on her actions and accepted that she should not have conducted herself as she did. Further, she had taken the decision to temporarily remove herself from social work while she addressed her personal issues, and has indicated that she would now recognise the early signs of stress. However, she has provided no evidence of positive steps she may have taken to develop and demonstrate her understanding of the importance of data protection and confidentiality. For this reason the Panel concluded that there is a risk of repetition, albeit relatively low.

 

76. The Panel did have regard to Mrs Wheldrick’s history. It concluded that while she had not previously been brought before her regulator, the misconduct found proved was not an isolated event. In particular, Mrs Hendrick’s repeated accessing of the records referred to in Particular 4 demonstrated a clear pattern of misconduct over a substantial period of time.

 

77. For all these reasons, the Panel determined that a finding of impairment is required on the ground of public protection.

 

78. The Panel then went on to consider whether a finding of impairment is necessary on public interest grounds.  In addressing this component of impairment, the Panel had careful regard to the critically important public issues identified by Silber J in the case of Cohen when he said:

 “Any approach to the issue of whether .... fitness to practise should be regarded as ‘impaired’ must take account of ‘the need to protect the individual patient, and the collective need to maintain confidence in the profession as well as declaring and upholding proper standards of conduct and behaviour.”

 

79. The Panel had no doubt that it would. It considered that maintaining confidentiality is a fundamental requirement of the profession of Social Workers and that the public would be concerned to learn of breaches of confidentiality of highly confidential information by a trained Social Worker.  Therefore, the Panel concluded that public confidence in the profession would be undermined if a finding of impairment of fitness to practise were not made in the circumstances of this case. 

 

80. For all the reasons set out above the Panel determined that Mrs Wheldrick’s fitness to practise is currently impaired, both on the grounds of public protection and in the public interest. 

 

81. Accordingly, the Panel found the Allegation well founded.

 

 

Decision on Sanction

 

82. The panel next considered what, if any, sanction to impose on Mrs Wheldrick’s registration.

 

83. The panel had careful regard to all the evidence put before it, and also to the submissions of Ms Sheridan. The panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

 

84. Ms Sheridan drew the panel’s attention to the HCPC’s Indicative Sanctions Policy and submitted that the question of sanction is a matter for the panel’s own independent judgment.

 

85. In reaching its decision the Panel had at the forefront of its thinking the principle of proportionality and the need to balance the interests of Mrs Wheldrick with the protection of the public and the wider public interest in maintaining confidence in the profession and the HCPC, and declaring and upholding proper standards of conduct and performance.

 

86. The panel had in mind that the purpose of sanctions is not to be punitive, though they may have a punitive effect. The panel considered the options open to it starting with the least restrictive and working up the scale of restrictiveness.

 

87. In reaching its decision, the panel had regard to all the circumstances, including the following mitigating and aggravating features of the case:

 

Mitigating -

 

• Mrs Wheldrick engaged with her employer’s investigation and made early admissions and disclosures to the matters now set out in 1-3 and expressed remorse for her actions. All of this assisted this Panel in its own consideration of the matters in issue

 

• Mrs Wheldrick’s judgment had been affected by difficult personal circumstances, especially in regard to the matters set out in Particulars 1 and 3

 

• During the course of her employer’s investigation, and through her statement and letter of resignation, Mrs Wheldrick demonstrated her understanding that she should not have acted as she did, especially in  regard to the matters set out in Particulars 1 and 3

 

• The Panel received no evidence of actual harm to any individual as a result of Mrs Wheldrick’s actions

 

• Through her letter of resignation Mrs Wheldrick demonstrated insight into the impact of stress and anxiety on her actions, and her ability to recognise and manage those issues in future.

 

 

Aggravating -

 

• The misconduct was repeated and persistent and demonstrated a pattern of behaviour over a protracted period of time in relation to the actions referred to in particular 4.

 

• The misconduct breached the fundamental requirement of Social Workers that they respect confidentiality

 

• The misconduct demonstrated a lack of understanding of the impact of Mrs Wheldrick’s actions on those whose records she accessed and on public confidence in Social Workers.

 

• Material of particular sensitivity, which required a high level of confidentiality, was accessed.

 

• The misconduct demonstrated a lack of understanding of the risks to containment of information resulting from unauthorised accessing of confidential information

 

• Mrs Wheldrick has not engaged in the regulatory process.

 

88. The Panel first considered whether it would be appropriate to impose no sanction in this case. It gave careful consideration to Paragraph 8 of the Indicative Sanctions Policy. The Panel determined that in light of its findings that Mrs Wheldrick has demonstrated only limited insight and remediation and that there remains a risk, albeit low, of repetition, the imposition of no sanction would neither protect the public nor serve the wider public interest in maintaining confidence and declaring and upholding proper standards.

 

89. The Panel next considered the imposition of a caution order. It gave careful consideration to the factors set out in the Indicative Sanctions Policy. The panel determined although the risk of repetition is low, further insight and remediation is required.  In addition, the Panel was of the view that the misconduct was neither isolated nor minor in nature.  For these reasons the Panel determined that a caution order is not appropriate as it would neither protect the public nor the wider public interest.

 

90. The Panel then considered the imposition of a Conditions of Practice Order. It gave careful consideration to Paragraphs 30 - 38 of the Indicative Sanctions Policy. The panel recognised that conditions requiring the completion of remedial training and the provision of a reflective piece demonstrating fuller insight would give Mrs Wheldrick an opportunity to demonstrate to a future panel that her fitness to practise is no longer impaired. However, by reason of her lack of engagement with the process, the Panel has no information as to Mrs Wheldrick’s current circumstances and is unable to conclude that she would comply with any conditions it might impose. For these reasons the Panel determined that a Conditions of Practice Order is not appropriate and would neither protect the public nor the wider public interest.

 

91. The Panel went on to consider the imposition of a Suspension Order. It gave careful consideration to Paragraphs 39-45 of the Indicative Sanctions Policy. Such an order would protect the public and the public interest while providing Mrs Wheldrick with an opportunity to reflect further on her failings and undertake specific remedial training in order to demonstrate to a future panel that her fitness to practise is no longer impaired, thereby facilitating a staged return to practice.

 

92. The Panel considered that a Suspension Order for a period of 6 months would be sufficient to mark the unacceptability of Mrs Wheldrick’s misconduct and to satisfy the wider public interest. It would also be sufficient to enable Mrs Wheldrick to complete the process of remediation and development of full insight.

 

93. The Panel did consider the imposition of a striking off order.  Having concluded that a lesser sanction in the form of a period of suspension would provide adequate public protection and would be sufficient in the public interest, the panel determined that a striking-off order is neither appropriate nor proportionate at this time.

 

94. This order will be reviewed before its expiry.  The reviewing panel may be assisted by:

• evidence of having undertaken training in relation to confidentiality and data protection and,

• a demonstration of learning from such training and reflection on the potential impact of her failings. 

Order

The Registrar is directed to suspend Mrs Wheldrick’s registration for a period of six months.

Notes

The order imposed today will apply from 12 October 2017 (the operative date)

Hearing history

History of Hearings for Kelly Anne Wheldrick

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
12/09/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended