Mrs Marie Devlin

: Social worker

: SW50528

: Review Hearing

Date and Time of hearing:10:00 20/09/2017 End: 12:30 20/09/2017

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

: Conduct and Competence Committee
: Suspended

Allegation

The following allegation was considered by a Panel of the Conduct and Competence Panel at the substantive hearing on 19 to 22 September 2016.

During the course of your employment as a Social Worker with Northumberland County Council:

1. On or around 2 September 2013 you kept 82 confidential documents in an unsecured locker.

2. On 20 April 2010 you visited Service User W to conduct a Continuing Health Care ("CHC") assessment checklist, but you:

a) did not make reference in your care plan document to:

i. CHC assessment checklist;

ii. Mental Capacity assessment.

3. On 20 October 2010 you visited Service User W, and you:

a) did not make reference in your care plan document to the information gathered at that review meeting;

b) did not record your risk assessment on the care plan;

c) incorrectly recorded the date of the care plan as 20 April 2010.

4. In respect of Service User D:

a) in relation to the care plan dated 21 November 2012, you:

i. did not record a risk assessment on the care plan;

ii. did not record information regarding mental capacity;

b) in relation to a police referral of 14 March 2013 and/or the care plan dated 19 March 2013, you:

i. not found proved

ii. did not record a risk assessment on the care plan;

c) following a police referral on 24 June 2013, you:

i. not found proved ii did not undertake a visit to Service User D's principal carer.

5. Between 6 December 2011 and 11 January 2012, in the case of Service User G, you:

a) did not make arrangements for contact to be facilitated in respect of Service User G and the family;

b) did not provide the family with a copy of Service User G's care plan.

6. Between 13 November 2012 and 12 June 2013, in the case of Service User R, you:

a) did not progress the case to enable Service User R to return home;

b) did not record risk assessments;

c) did not complete a Mental Health Assessment;

d) not found proved;

e) not found proved.

7. The matters set out in paragraphs 1 - 6 constitute misconduct

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

The Panel at the Substantive Hearing found the following particulars of the allegation proved : 1, 2(a)(i) - (ii); 3(a), 3(b), 3(c), 4(a)(i) - (ii), 4(b)(ii), 4(c)(ii), 5 (a) (b), 6 (a),6(b) and 6(c). It found misconduct in respect of all particulars found proved with the exception of particulars 3(c) and 4(c)(ii). It imposed a Suspension Order for 12 months.

Finding

Preliminary Matters

Service

1. The Panel was satisfied, on documentary evidence provided, that the Registrant has been given proper Notice of this Review Hearing in accordance with the relevant Rules. The Panel had seen a letter sent by first class post to the Registrant dated 14 August 2017 at her registered address.

Application to adjourn the hearing

2. On 6 September 2017, the Registrant telephoned the HCPC seeking an adjournment. She was advised to put her application in writing and did so in an email of the same date. Attached to that email was relevant documentary proof to support the reason for her application. In her application, the Registrant made it clear that she wished to attend the review hearing to present her reflections and tell the Panel what she has been doing since the imposition of the 12-month Suspension Order in September last year. Mr Newman for the HCPC opposed the application. He submitted that whilst the HCPC was sympathetic to the Registrant’s position and accepted that there was no question of the Registrant choosing not to attend the hearing, the Panel had to balance the needs of the public in mandatory hearings being heard at the appointed time with the interests of the Registrant to provide an update on what she has been doing since the imposition of the original order. Mr Newman also submitted that it was unlikely that the Registrant would be fit enough to attend even if the hearing could be re-scheduled before the expiry date of 20 October 2017.

3. The Panel has taken note of the matters set out in the HCPTS Practice Note on “Postponement and Adjournment of Proceedings” as they apply to this case. It has read all the documentation, including a file note of a conversation with the Registrant yesterday and an email from the Registrant of the same date. It has received and accepted legal advice.

4. The Panel has had regard to the importance of ensuring that the Registrant has a fair hearing and also to the public interest in mandatory review hearings being heard at the allotted time. It considers that the Registrant has excellent grounds for seeking an adjournment and has every sympathy with her position. However, it is satisfied that there is no purpose in adjourning the hearing for 2–3 weeks as it is highly unlikely, on the information before it, that the Registrant will be able to attend and fully participate in a hearing at that time, as she clearly wishes to do.

5. The Panel is also satisfied that it is in the public interest for this mandatory hearing to take place before the expiry of the current Suspension Order. It is a fact that the Panel has no up-to-date information before it as to what the Registrant has been doing since that Order was imposed. It would undermine public confidence in the Social Work profession and its regulatory process if a Suspension Order was permitted to simply expire in the sort of circumstances that have arisen in this case, without any enquiry to ensure that the registrant involved was safe to return to unrestricted practice. The Panel has therefore decided not to grant the Registrant’s application.

Proceeding in Absence of the Registrant

6. The Panel then considered whether or not to proceed in the absence of the Registrant in light of her clear indication that she wishes the proceedings to be adjourned so that she can attend on a later date when she is medically fit to do so. There is no indication in any of the documents that she has provided to the HCPC as to when this might be, but the Panel is aware from the nature of her current medical condition that it is not likely to be before the current Suspension Order expires on 20 October 2017.

7. The Panel has concluded that the Registrant is aware of today’s hearing and has noted her reasons for non-attendance. The Panel has already indicated that it has every sympathy with the position the Registrant finds herself in. It also noted that while there is nothing explicit in the recent contact between the HCPC and the Registrant which indicates that she is aware that today’s hearing might proceed in her absence, the possibility of this is set out in the Notice of Hearing letter that was sent to her on 14 August 2017.

8. The Panel has decided to proceed in the Registrant’s absence. In reaching its decision, the Panel has considered the HCPTS Practice Note on “Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant”. It has also received and accepted legal advice. The Panel noted that it should exercise care and caution before deciding to proceed in the absence of a registrant. In this case, the Panel has taken its decision on public interest grounds alone, as it could not conclude on the information before it that the Registrant has waived the right to be present and to be represented. Furthermore, it was clear that the Registrant had requested an adjournment. The Panel concluded that there was a public interest in mandatory reviews being heard at the allotted time and before the expiry of an order. For the same reasons that the Panel did not grant the Registrant’s application for an adjournment, if it decided not to proceed in her absence today, it would only be for a limited period up to the expiry date of 20 October 2017 when it seems most unlikely that she would be well enough to attend.

Background

9. The Registrant qualified as a Social Worker in June 2006. From 24 June 2006, she was employed as a Social Worker at Northumberland County Council ("the Council"). At the time of the Allegation, the Registrant worked in the Community Service Business Unit for Adult Social Care in the West Mental Health Team. She worked within the mental health service.

10. Concerns regarding the Registrant's performance emerged in 2012. Extra supervision and support sessions were introduced at that time. In 2013, the Council undertook an investigation and audit of the Registrant's cases. The investigation uncovered concerns relating to care planning, risk assessment, document management, inappropriate storage of confidential documentation and issues relating to record keeping.

11. An internal investigation and disciplinary procedure was undertaken. The Registrant was on sick leave from her job for the duration of the internal processes. The Registrant was dismissed from her employment in May 2014.

12. The substantive hearing panel heard evidence that in September 2014, the Registrant had started work with an agency and since January 2015, she had been working in an unqualified role with Sunderland City Council's Safeguarding Service ("the City Council"). Testimonials were produced in evidence from the agency and the City Council which confirmed that there had been no concerns regarding her working practices in this capacity. It was noted by that panel that this was a role with no front-line contact with service users.

13. That panel was satisfied that the Registrant had some but not yet full insight into her shortcomings, and that she had achieved a degree of remediation of these. As there was not evidence of sufficient insight or remediation, the panel could not rule out the risk of repetition.

14. In finding the Registrant's fitness to practise was impaired at that time, that panel also concluded that as she continued to present a risk of harm to service users, from which the public required protection, the public interest in upholding proper professional standards and public confidence in the profession and the regulatory process would be undermined if such a finding were not made in the circumstances of her case.

15. In imposing a Suspension Order for 12 months, that panel made it clear that the Registrant's misconduct was capable of being remedied and indicated that the 12 month period would give the Registrant time to complete the process of reflection on her misconduct so as to provide evidence of full insight and remediation prior to any return to practise, should she so wish. It was suggested that the Reviewing Panel may be assisted by the following:

• evidence of effective reflection on her practise, shortcomings and their impact on service users during the period covered by this case. Such evidence should be sufficient to provide assurance that she fully recognises what should have been done in the circumstances in which the Registrant found herself;

• evidence of how the Registrant has maintained the currency of her social work knowledge and skills. In this respect, it may assist the Registrant to provide evidence that she has taken action along the lines of the recommendations in the HCPC Returning to Practice Guidance.

Decision

16. In reaching its decision, the Panel has taken account of the HCPTS Practice Note “Finding that Fitness to Practise is ‘Impaired’”. It has had regard to the submissions of Mr Newman for the HCPC. It has taken note that it has not received any submissions on behalf of the Registrant or any documentary evidence from her. It has not held this against her as it has also seen information about her health which partially explains this. It has received and accepted legal advice. The Panel has taken into account all the documentary information put before it, including the determination of the panel which imposed the Suspension Order.

17. The Panel noted that the purpose of a review hearing was to assess current fitness to practise. The Panel agreed with the original Panel’s assessment that the Registrant’s misconduct was capable of being remedied. However, in the absence of any information from the Registrant as to whether she now has full insight into the failings relating to her work as a Social Worker, or that she has fully reflected on these and remedied them, the Panel is unable to conclude that it is now safe for the Registrant to return to unrestricted practice. In light of this, the Panel takes the view that there is still the risk of harm to service users.

18. With regard to the wider public interest, the Panel has decided that as there is no evidence before it of any change since the substantive hearing, in order to uphold proper professional standards and public confidence in the Social Work profession and in its regulatory body, it must make a finding of impairment in this case.

19. In these circumstances, the Panel has determined that the Registrant’s fitness to practise remains impaired.

20. The Panel then considered what the appropriate and proportionate order was in this case. It was referred to and took account of the HCPC “Indicative Sanctions Policy”, and received and accepted legal advice.

21. The Panel considered its powers under Article 30 (1) of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001 and the available sanctions in ascending order of seriousness. It had in mind that the purpose of a sanction was not to punish the Registrant but to protect the public. It decided that to take no action in this case would not be appropriate or proportionate given the misconduct concerned. To take no action would not manage the risks identified in this case and the Panel was satisfied that to ensure the public was properly protected, it had to impose a sanction.

22. The Panel next considered a Caution Order and concluded that this was not appropriate in this case. There was no evidence yet of sufficient insight and reflection, or of steps taken since the last hearing to remedy the misconduct. This meant that there was nothing to demonstrate that there was a low risk of recurrence. The matters that led to the finding of misconduct could not be described as either relatively minor or at the lower end of the scale.

23. The Panel also took the view that a Conditions of Practice Order was not appropriate in this case. There was no evidence as to the Registrant’s current employment status and in the absence of up-to-date information, the Panel concluded that it could not devise conditions that were appropriate, proportionate, workable and verifiable in this case.

24. The Panel next considered a Suspension Order. The Panel noted that the Registrant has expressed a wish to present her reflections and update a reviewing panel in person on her work and the support she has had during the period of the current Suspension Order. The Panel also took into account the submissions of Mr Newman for the HCPC, who was asking for 3 month extension in order to allow the Registrant sufficient time to recuperate so that she could fully participate in the next review hearing. The Panel has decided that the appropriate and proportionate order is a Suspension Order for a further period of 3 months. In deciding on that period, the Panel had in mind that it should give the Registrant the opportunity that she has requested to present her reflections to a reviewing panel when she is better able to do so.

25. The Panel concluded that a Striking Off order was a sanction of last resort and was generally reserved for the most serious cases. It was satisfied this was not such a case and that to impose such a sanction would be disproportionate and unduly punitive. It would also deprive the Registrant of the opportunity she had been given by the substantive hearing panel to demonstrate that she was safe to return to unrestricted practice.

26. This Suspension Order will be reviewed before its expiry. This will enable the Registrant to recuperate and attend on the next review hearing and present her evidence. The Panel agrees with the substantive hearing panel that the next reviewing panel may be assisted by the Registrant producing:

• evidence of effective reflection on her practise, shortcomings and their impact on service users during the period covered by this case. Such evidence should be sufficient to provide assurance that she fully recognises what should have been done in the circumstances in which the Registrant found herself;

• evidence of how the Registrant has maintained the currency of her social work knowledge and skills. In this respect, it may assist the Registrant to provide evidence that she has taken action along the lines of the recommendations in the HCPC Returning to Practice Guidance.

Order

The Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Mrs Marie Devlin for a further period of 3 months from the expiry of the existing Order.

Notes

The order imposed today will apply from 20 October 2017.

This order will be reviewed again before its expiry on 20 January 2018.

Hearing history

History of Hearings for Mrs Marie Devlin

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
13/12/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing Hearing has not yet been held
20/09/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing Suspended