Ms Sharon O'Toole

: Social worker

: SW83839

: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing:10:00 16/10/2017 End: 17:00 19/10/2017

: Radisson Blu Manchester Hotel, Free Trade Hall, Peter Street, Manchester, M2 5GP

: Conduct and Competence Committee
: Not well founded

Allegation

Whilst registered as Social Worker and employed as an Outreach Worker you:


1. In relation to Family File 1, you:
a) Did not adequately complete the chronology sheet;
b) Did not complete the information sheet for 3 June 2015;
c) Did not file the information sheets in chronological order;
d) Did not complete the information sheets after 29 May 2015 or make a note within the file explaining why no further action was taken after that date;


2. In relation to Family File 2, you:
a) Did not complete the chronology sheet;
b) Did not complete the information sheets;
c) Made notes on the MCAF form and did not transfer those notes to information sheets;


3. In relation to Family File 3, you:
a) Did not prepare a file;
b) Kept loose papers pertaining to the family in an unlocked drawer;
c) Did not complete the chronology sheet;
d) Did not complete information sheets;
e) Made notes on the MCAF form and did not transfer those notes to information sheets;

4. In relation to Family File 4, you:
a) Did not prepare a file;
b) Kept papers pertaining to the family on a clipboard rather than a file;
c) Did not adequately complete the chronology sheet;
d) Did not file the information sheets in chronological order;


5. In relation to Family File 5, you:
a) Did not complete the chronology sheet;
b) Did not file the information sheets in chronological order;
c) Kept papers pertaining to the family on a clipboard rather than a file;
d) Inappropriately kept photocopies of information pertaining to the family on the file;


6. In relation to Family File 6, you:
a) Did not adequately complete the chronology sheet;
b) Did not file the information sheets in chronological order;


7. Your actions described in particulars 1 to 6 constitute 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


Application to amend the Allegation
1. At the beginning of the hearing Mr Foxsmith on behalf of the HCPC applied to amend the allegation by deleting Particular 1 and substituting Particulars 1 to 6 which particularised and clarified the matters which had only been referred to in general terms in the unamended Particular 1. No injustice would be caused by those amendments. The Registrant had been informed about the proposed amendments in a letter dated 28 April 2016. There was no objection to the proposed amendments from the Registrant. The Legal Assessor advised that the allegation could be amended provided that the Panel was satisfied that no injustice was thereby caused. The Panel allowed the application for amendment of all of the Particulars asked for, concluding that there was no injustice caused and accepting that the amendments helped to ensure clarity in the allegation but did not change the nature of it or make it more serious for the Registrant. 

Background


2. The Registrant is a registered Social Worker. Previously she was employed by Big Life Families but On April 1 2015 she was transferred to Martenscroft Nursery School and Nursery Centres (MNS). The Registrant was not employed as a Social Worker but worked there as an Early Years Outreach Worker until she resigned on 30 October 2015. As an Early Years Outreach Worker, the Registrant was responsible for working with families and local communities to achieve outcomes in line with Sure Start Children’s centre core purpose and to work collaboratively with the Health Visiting team and other parties.

3. On 7 September 2015, concerns were raised by KH, Health Visitor, in relation to the Registrant’s practice. General concerns were raised in relation to closing cases, not providing feedback and not taking mothers to appointments, as well as more specific concerns in relation to some families the Registrant had responsibility for. Following a review of the Registrant’s files, she was suspended on 8 September 2015, pending an investigation.

4. An investigation into the allegation was subsequently carried out. The matter was subsequently referred to the HCPC on 12 October 2015.


Decision on Facts


5. The allegation was read out. The Registrant admitted all of the Particulars. The Panel acknowledged the fact that those admissions had been made and bore the admissions in mind when considering whether the Particular it was considering had been proved or not. The Panel bore in mind the burden and standard of proof and considered each Particular separately.


6. The Panel first considered the witnesses who had given evidence. The HCPC called 2 witnesses, RJ, and DK.  The Registrant gave evidence. The Panel also noted the admissions made by the Registrant at the start of the hearing. The Panel also however took account of the fact that, in the course of the evidence given by RJ and DK, the Registrant sought to qualify and explain some of those admissions. The Panel therefore examined all of the evidence carefully despite the admissions made by the Registrant.

7. It was apparent to the Panel that in the course of the evidence given by the Registrant she found differences in her employment as an Early Years Outreach Worker at MNS to the duties that she had carried out as a Social Worker in her previous places of employment. The expectations placed upon her by MNS were not necessarily those normally expected of a Social Worker in the Registrant’s position. This was particularly relevant to a number of the Particulars which alleged the incorrect filling out of a ‘Chronology of Significant Events’ form (COSE) produced by MNS. Both witnesses called by the HCPC gave evidence that all contact or actions taken should be recorded on the COSE as well as on information sheets. The Registrant gave evidence that information should not be duplicated and should only be recorded on the COSE if it was significant. The Panel noted the heading of the COSE in which it sets out the requirements and gave examples of what might be considered significant events:


“This may include involvement/ receipt of services from an agency; Incidence where a child is considered to have suffered harm/ or is at risk of harm; Any significant parental factors including substance abuse and mental health issues that may have an impact on the child; Domestic Violence and Abuse incidents; Significant child health issues; Changes in where a child lives, including placement history of children in care; Changes in family structure, e.g. people in significant contact with child or living in child’s home; Any known conviction/prison sentence of a parent or significant family member that is deemed to indicate a risk to children or impact on parental capacity; Dates of meetings or professional activities; Conclusions of assessments, receipt of referrals and decisions regarding service intervention;
Any other events and changes in the circumstances of the child and family deemed to be significant, or potentially significant for the child.”


8. Although there were some differences between the two witnesses, the Panel considered that both RJ and DK tried to assist the Panel to the best of their ability and recollection. Both witnesses agreed that any perceived shortcomings by the Registrant had not exposed families or children to risk. They also agreed that the notes written in the files and information sheets by the Registrant were adequate.
9. The Panel then considered the individual Particulars. 


Particular 1(a)
10. The Panel found this Particular not proved.


11. The Registrant admitted this Particular nevertheless the Panel examined the evidence with care. There are entries made by the Registrant on the COSE. Those entries refer to visits or meetings. The Registrant made full notes on the information sheets. The Panel could find nothing recorded in the information sheets which would require an entry to be also made on the COSE. This applied both to the examples highlighted in the heading of the COSE and the Registrant’s duties as a registered Social Worker. The Panel therefore could not say that the entries recorded by the Registrant on the COSE were not adequate.


Particular 1(b)
12. The Panel found this Particular proved.

13. There was no entry in the information sheet for the case conference review of 3 June 2015, so this finding is factually correct. However, there is an entry by the Registrant on the COSE referring to the Review on that date and saying “My attendance not required as advised by SW”, therefore the Panel considers that this finding is only one of fact and attaches no blame to the Registrant for the omission.


Particular 1(c)
14. The Panel found this Particular not proved.


15. There are two sheets in the file numbered and in date order. Whichever sheet was placed first in the file the sheets would be in chronological order.


Particular 1(d)
16. The Panel found this Particular proved.


17. After the 29 May 2015 the Registrant was taken off direct contact duties for a period of time. It is unclear what steps were taken by MNS to cover for this. It is clear however that the Registrant’s line manager did not take the files and assign them to someone else. There were no outstanding issues and there was no fault on the Registrant’s part therefore the Panel treats this as a finding of fact only.


Particular 2(a)
18. The Panel found this Particular not proved.

19. The Registrant admitted this Particular nevertheless the Panel examined the evidence with care. The Registrant made full notes on the back of the MCAF form. The Panel could find nothing recorded in that information which would require an entry to be also made on the COSE. This applied to the examples highlighted in the heading of the COSE and the Registrant’s duties as a registered Social Worker. 


Particular 2(b) and 2(c)
20. The Panel found both these Particulars proved as the allegation is that the Registrant kept notes on the back of the MCAF form rather than on an information sheet. The notes were full and detailed the dealings that the Registrant had with family 2. No harm was caused by the Registrant’s actions.


Particular 3(a)
21. The Panel found this Particular proved.


22. Even though No Action was taken in relation to the family. There had been a referral and the Registrant should have started a basic file to detail family and the child and the circumstances of the referral.


Particular 3(b)
23. The Panel found this Particular not proved.

24. There was a conflict in the evidence presented as to where the papers were found. RJ said in her witness statement that the papers were found in an unlocked filing cabinet. In her evidence however, she said that the papers were found in the desk of the centre manager DK. She also said that the drawer could not be locked. DK gave evidence that she could not remember seeing any case papers in her desk drawer and she could not remember if the drawer was lockable or not. The Registrant said she kept all of her papers in a lockable filing cabinet. All witnesses did say that all of the members of the staff had access to keys to all of the drawers and filing cabinets in the office. Because of this conflict the Panel could not be satisfied to the necessary standard of proof that this Particular was proved.

Particular 3(c)
25. The Panel found this Particular proved.


26. Although no further action was taken in relation to this family significant events did occur which should have been recorded on the COSE. These included the fact of the family accessing Universal Service, previous police involvement and the fact that No Further Action was taken.


Particular 3(d) and 3(e)
27. The Panel found both these Particulars proved as the allegation is that the Registrant kept notes on the MCAF form rather than on an information sheet. The notes were full and detailed the dealings that the Registrant had with family 3. No harm was caused by the Registrant’s actions.


Particular 4(a)
28. The Panel finds this Particular not proved.


29. Although the Registrant admitted this Particular, the Panel examined all of the evidence and compared this to Particulars 1, 2, 5, and 6 where the files were the same in their presentation. The Panel could see no apparent reason why this Particular alleged that a file had not been prepared when such an allegation had not been made in respect of the other Particulars. In the absence of such a reason the Panel concluded that it could not say that a file had not been prepared in this Particular.


Particular 4(b)
30. The Panel finds this Particular proved.


31. In making this finding the Panel accepts the admissions made by the Registrant. The Panel also accepts the evidence given by witnesses for the HCPC that the file was found on a clipboard rather than in a plastic envelope. In light of the evidence given however the Panel cannot find fault attached to this finding. The Registrant worked at MNS from April 1 2015. Her work and files were never reviewed until after her suspension. There is no evidence of any harm caused by the manner of the keeping of the file or that management pointed out the manner of the keeping to the Registrant. The Panel considers that this finding relates to a performance management issue rather than an issue that should concern a regulatory body.


Particular 4(c)
32. The Panel finds this Particular proved.


33. The Registrant did admit this Particular. The information recorded by the Registrant on the information sheet did include significant events which should have been recorded on the COSE.


Particular 4(d)
34. The Panel finds this Particular not proved.


35. All of the information sheets are numbered and contain information in date order. The information sheets are filled out by more than one person and the last entries are not those of the Registrant. There is insufficient evidence to say that the sheets were not filed by the Registrant in chronological order.


Particular 5(a)
36. The Panel finds this Particular proved.


37. The Registrant did admit this Particular. The information recorded by the Registrant on the information sheet did include significant events which should have been recorded on the COSE.


Particular 5(b)
38. The Panel finds this Particular not proved.


39. All of the information sheets are numbered and contain information in date order. The information sheets are filled out by more than one person and the last entries are not those of the Registrant There is insufficient evidence to say that the sheets were not filed by the Registrant in chronological order.


Particular 5(c)
40. The Panel finds this Particular proved.

41. In making this finding the Panel accepts the admissions made by the Registrant. The Panel also accepts the evidence given by witnesses for the HCPC that the file was found on a clipboard rather than in a plastic envelope. In light of the evidence given however the Panel cannot find fault attached to this finding. The Registrant worked at MNS from April 1 2015. Her work files were never reviewed until after her suspension. There is no evidence of any harm caused by the way in which the file was kept or that management addressed the manner of the keeping with the Registrant. The Panel considers that this finding relates to a performance management issue rather than an issue that should concern a regulatory body.


Particular 5(d)
42. The Panel finds this Particular not proved.


43. The Registrant admitted this Particular at the outset, but denied it during the course of her evidence. There is little evidence to show where and when this occurred. The Panel were not shown the actual file or photocopy. The Registrant said that she did not photocopy information. After the Registrant’s suspension, there is evidence of other people having access to and working on the file.  The Panel therefore considers that there is insufficient evidence to satisfy it to the necessary standard of proof.


Particular 6(a)
44. The Panel finds this Particular proved.


45. The Registrant did admit this Particular. The information recorded by the Registrant on the information sheet did include significant events which should have been recorded on the COSE.


Particular 6(b)
46. The Panel finds this Particular not proved.


47. The information sheets are numbered but there is no information as to whom numbered them. They are completed by more than one person. There is a variety of dates not necessarily in date order. This occurs in relation to entries from the Registrant and from another employee PP. There is no evidence of who filed or had the eventual responsibility for filing the sheets. There is evidence that a large amount of the file was completed in the absence of the Registrant. In all of the circumstance the Panel cannot be satisfied to necessary standard of proof that there is sufficient evidence to find this Particular proved.

 
Decision on Grounds


48. Having found some of the facts proved, the Panel went on to consider whether they amounted to misconduct and/or lack of competence. The Panel first considered whether the facts found proved amounted to lack of competence. The Panel accepted the definition given by Mr Justice Jackson in the case of (R v Calhaem v GMC [2007] EWHC 2606 (Admin) para 39) for deficient professional performance and accepted that the definition was applicable to lack of competence:

"Deficient professional performance" within the meaning of 35C(2)(b) is conceptually separate both from negligence and from misconduct. It connotes a standard of professional performance which is unacceptably low and which (save in exceptional circumstances) has been demonstrated by reference to a fair sample of the doctor's work.” The Panel considers that this means that in this allegation there would effectively need to be a finding of a pattern of behaviour in relation to all of the matters found proved in order to find that they amounted to a lack of competence.”


49. The Registrant is an experienced Social Worker. The facts found proved in relation to Particulars 1(b), 1(d), 2(b), 2(c), 3(a), 3(c), 3(d), 3(e), 4(b), 4(c), 5(a), 5(c), and 6(a) all relate to her work at MNS as an Early Years Outreach Worker. She was not employed as a Social Worker there. The Panel must distinguish between matters that relate to management performance issues rather than issues that should concern a regulatory body. Witnesses for the HCPC have conceded that none of the Registrant’s actions caused harm to any family or child and that in all cases her notes were of a satisfactory standard.

50. The Panel considers that the facts found proved related to performance management issues rather than a lack of competence that should concern a regulatory body.

51. The Panel therefore considers that they did not amount to the ground of lack of competence on the part of a Social Worker.

52. The Panel then considered whether the remainder of the facts found proved amounted to misconduct. It accepted the definition as given in the case of Calhaem:

“Mere negligence does not constitute "misconduct" within the meaning of section 35C(2)(a) of the Medical Act 1983. Nevertheless, and depending upon the circumstances, negligent acts or omissions which are particularly serious may amount to "misconduct".

53. For a finding of misconduct, the Panel considers that it must look at each Particular found proved and see whether it is serious enough to have amounted to misconduct. In the same way as it approached the question of lack of competence, the Panel looked at the Particulars. No person was harmed. No person outside MNS was affected by the Registrant’s actions.  In the Panel’s view the actions or omissions of the Registrant were not serious. None of them individually or together amounted to misconduct.

54. Having not found any of the grounds the Panel formally finds this case not well found and concludes the hearing.

Order

No information currently available

Notes

No notes available

Hearing history

History of Hearings for Ms Sharon O'Toole

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
16/10/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Not well founded
27/02/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Adjourned