Mr Lee Robert Patrick Higginbottom

: Social worker

: SW27233

: Review Hearing

Date and Time of hearing:12:30 29/09/2017 End: 17:00 29/09/2017

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

: Conduct and Competence Committee
: Struck off

Allegation

During the course of your practise as a Social Worker at Northamptonshire County Council, whilst working as an Independent Review and Conference Officer, during the period between December 2009 and November 2013:

1. You did not keep accurate records on CareFirst for approximately 87 Statutory Looked After Children (LAC) Reviews relating to 64 children.

2. You did not update / record their LAC review reports in Care First on their file within the 20 days as required.

3. You did not provide documents for reviews relating to Service Users A and B.

4. You did not enter outcomes of the Child Protection (CP) Conferences between 10 -12 June 2013, in relation to the following Service Users:

a) Family C x 3

b) Family D x 3 and;

c) Service User E x 1.

5. Within the case files audited from your caseload:

a) In relation to Service User F, you did not record the Chair report on Care First following the Looked After Review (LAR) held on 4 March 2013.

b) In relation to Service User G:

i) You did not complete and / or record the LAR Meetings since January 2012.

ii) You did not record the content of the review meetings

c) In relation to Service User H, you did not complete and / or record the LAR chair reports on Care First, following the LAR held on 3 November 2011 and 17 July 2013.

d) In relation to Service User I

i) You did not complete and / or record the Chair reports from LAC Reviews located on the file since 11 July 2012.

ii) You did not complete the Chair report dated 8 January 2013.

iii) You did not record any Review Reports on Alchemy.

e) In relation to Service User J, there are missing reports for the following dates:

i) 24 October 2011;

ii) 1 March 2013,

iii) 6 May 2013 and;

iv) 19 August 2013.

f) In relation to Service Users K and L, you did not complete and / or record the Chair reports from LAC Reviews located on the file since October 2010.

g) In relation to Service Users K and L, you did not record any Review Reports on Alchemy.

h) In relation to Service User M and N, you did not complete and / or record the LAC chair reports on Care First, following the LARs held on the following dates:

i) 9 July 2012;

ii) 27 November 2012 and;

iii) 7 February 2012.

i) In relation to Service User O:

i) You did not complete the Chair report dated 4 December 2012 and 21 February 2013.

ii) You did not record the Chair report following the LAR held on 29 July 2013 on Care First.

6. You did not keep your managers proactively informed about the significant backlog.

7. The matters set out in paragraphs 1 - 6 amount to misconduct and / or lack of competence.

8. By reason of your misconduct and / or lack of competence, your fitness to practise is impaired.

Finding

Preliminary Matters

Service

1. The Panel was satisfied that notice of today’s hearing had been served on the Registrant at his registered address.

Proceeding in absence

2. The Registrant did not appear nor was he represented. He had not attended the final hearing in September 2016.  He had emailed the HCPC on 26 August 2017 to say that he would not be attending this second review hearing, that he had no intention of returning to practice as a Social Worker, and asking to be removed from the register.  He has not responded to subsequent correspondence from the HCPC in relation to voluntary removal from the register.

3. On behalf of the HCPC, Ms Scholz applied for the hearing to be conducted in the absence of the Registrant on the basis that he had been notified of the date, time and location of the hearing at his registered address. Ms Scholz submitted that it was in the public interest for the hearing to proceed expeditiously.

4. Having considered the revised HCPC Practice Note on proceeding in absence and the advice of the Legal Assessor on the case of GMC v Adeogba [2016] EWCA Civ 162 (“the fair, economical, expeditious and efficient disposal of allegations against medical practitioners is of real importance”), the Panel was satisfied that the Registrant had received proper notice of today’s hearing and had voluntarily absented himself.  The Registrant had not applied for an adjournment and had given clear notice of his intention not to attend the hearing.  There was no indication that he would attend at a later date if today’s hearing were to be adjourned.  The Panel noted the overriding public interest in dealing with matters in a timely manner and that this was a mandatory review. In balancing the Registrant’s interest and the public interest, the Panel decided that the matter should be heard in the absence of the Registrant.

Background

5. The Registrant was employed as an Independent Review and Conference Officer (IRCO) at Northamptonshire County Council from 1 December 2009 until his resignation on 19 March 2014.  He chaired statutory reviews of Looked After Children (LAC) and he was responsible for ensuring that decisions and reports were recorded on a child’s file within prescribed periods of time.   The allegation reflected the fact that he had failed to record review recommendations or enter outcomes in relation to service users and that had allowed a large backlog of work to build up without informing his managers.  Of the 97 reviews allocated to the Registrant, 46 were found to have no written reports at all and a further 41 were incomplete.  

6. The full facts of the case are set out in the notice of the decision of the Conduct and Competence Committee hearing of 26-30 September 2016. The Registrant was found to have breached requirements to communicate with his colleagues and to keep accurate records on multiple occasions. The Registrant’s failings were found to amount to misconduct.   There was no evidence of insight or engagement.  He was found to have placed vulnerable service users at risk and to have damaged public confidence in his profession.   Accordingly, his fitness to practise was impaired.

7. The Panel at the final hearing imposed a Suspension Order of 12 months.  The case was too serious for any lesser order and a period of suspension would allow the Registrant to reflect, take remedial action and provide evidence for the review.  The Registrant was advised in clear terms that a reviewing Panel would be assisted by providing a reflective statement, references or testimonials and evidence of continued professional development.

This hearing – the first review

8. Ms Scholz for the HCPC reminded the Panel of the history of the case and of their powers as to extending, continuing, varying or revoking the order or imposing another order.  She submitted that this was a serious matter and there were continuing concerns about the Registrant’s fitness to practise in the absence of any further information as to his circumstances or any engagement on his part.  Accordingly, it was submitted that he continues to pose a risk to service users and his fitness to practise remains impaired.  Ms Scholz for the HCPC reminded the Panel that the Registrant had made clear in his email that he no longer wished to remain part of the profession and that he wanted to be removed from the register.  She therefore submitted that striking-off was an appropriate and proportionate sanction at this stage.

Decision

9. A substantive review is a two stage process.  The first task of the Panel is to decide whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired and if so, to then consider what, if any, sanction should be imposed upon his registration. In reaching its decision, the Panel has considered all the relevant material and had regard to the HCPC Practice Notes on Impairment and Indicative Sanctions Policy and the necessity for proportionality.  The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor as to the principles to be applied on the issues of impairment and/or sanction.

10. The Panel had firmly in mind that the purpose of this hearing was to conduct a thorough appraisal of the Registrant’s current fitness to practise, including an assessment of insight and future risk, and that this was not a rehearing of the facts of the original case. 

11. There was no evidence of insight, remorse, reflection or engagement by the Registrant.  He had not responded to the original Panel’s suggestion that he provide a reflective statement, references, testimonials or evidence of continued professional training.  He had sent a terse email on 26 August 2017 in which he said that he would not attend his review hearing and in which he asked to be removed from the register.

12. The Panel therefore accepted the submissions made on behalf of the HCPC that the Registrant had failed to engage with the regulatory process or to submit any further evidence of insight or remediation.  The original allegation was a serious matter of misconduct that had placed multiple service users at risk.  The Panel therefore concluded that the Registrant’s fitness to practise remained impaired. 

13. In making this finding in relation to the personal component, namely his present circumstances and whether he posed a continuing risk, the Panel had in mind the absence of further information about the Registrant’s current circumstances and his complete lack of engagement or interest.  The Panel also considered that a finding of impairment was necessary in the wider public interest to protect service users and to maintain public confidence in the profession.

Sanction

14. The nature of the misconduct was too serious to make no order.  The case concerned multiple failures in relation to vulnerable service users, so there was a continuing risk to the public in the absence of further information.  An order was also necessary to maintain public confidence in the profession. The Panel considered whether to impose a Caution Order, but decided that it was inappropriate, because there was no further evidence of insight or engagement and it would not provide sufficient public protection. 

15. A Conditions of Practice Order was neither appropriate nor workable in the absence of information about the Registrant’s current circumstances and his clearly expressed wish to be removed from the register.  Such an order is not appropriate where the Registrant does not intend to return to the profession.

16. The Panel then moved to consider whether to extend the current Suspension Order. The Panel noted the content of the Registrant’s email and decided that no practical or useful purpose would be served by a further extension of the Suspension Order and a further review at which the Registrant would not attend.

17. The Panel also noted that the HCPC had offered the Registrant the opportunity to proceed with his voluntary removal from the register, but that he had shown no interest and had not responded to three separate requests to return the necessary consent. The Panel therefore considered the sanction of striking-off, in view of the original finding of misconduct, the absence of engagement and the Registrant’s clearly expressed wish to relinquish his registration.   Whilst striking-off is regarded as a sanction of last resort, it may be necessary and proportionate where there has been a previous finding of serious misconduct and the Registrant has subsequently refused to engage with his regulator.   In the circumstances, the Panel concluded that the Registrant’s conduct and his attitude, as expressed in his email, was incompatible with his continued registration.  

 

Order

Order: The Registrar is directed to strike the name of Mr Lee Robert Patrick Higginbotom from the Register on the date this order comes into effect.

Notes

The order imposed today will take effect upon the expiry of the previous order.

Hearing history

History of Hearings for Mr Lee Robert Patrick Higginbottom

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
29/09/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing Struck off
26/09/2016 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended