Ms Deborah Johnson
The following allegation was considered by a Panel of the Conduct and Competence Committee at the substantive hearing on 12-13 January 2017 and 20-21 April 2017.
Whilst registered as a Social Worker and employed by Hull City Council, you:
1. Made mileage claims for journeys to Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, claiming to visit a service user, which were not undertaken on:
a. 13 August 2014;
b. 18 September 2014;
c. 8 October 2014;
d. 11 November 2014;
e. 11 December 2014;
f. 11 February 2015.
2. The matters described at particular 1 were dishonest.
3. The described at particulars 1 and 2 constitute misconduct.
4. By reason of your misconduct your fitness to practise is currently impaired.
1. There were no preliminary matters. The Registrant was not present but was represented by Mr Ciaran Galvin who confirmed that he had full instructions from her and her permission to proceed in her absence.
2. The Registrant is a registered Social Worker. The Registrant commenced employment with Hull City Council ('the Council') as a Grade 7, newly qualified Social Worker. Her role included travelling to meet with service users and their families. The Registrant was entitled to submit mileage claims to cover the cost of fuel when carrying her duties out on behalf of the Council.
3. In March 2015, GS, who was the person responsible for authorising the Registrant's mileage claims, noticed that the Registrant had submitted a claim for a journey to Newton Aycliffe, where there is a secure children's unit. GS was aware that the Registrant no longer needed to travel to Newton Aycliffe as the service user who had been located at the secure unit had been transferred elsewhere. GS asked the Registrant to amend the claim. GS subsequently checked the previous mileage claims that the Registrant had made and discovered that the Registrant had made claims for six journeys to Newton Aycliffe that she had no professional need to make. The Registrant, when questioned, stated that she had made a mistake in relation to these claims.
4. A formal investigation was undertaken on behalf of the Council. The Registrant was subsequently reported to the HCPC.
5. A final hearing was held by the HCPC on 12 and 13 January 2017 and 20 and 21 April 2017. The panel at the final hearing found the facts proved and they amounted to misconduct. It found the Registrant’s fitness to practise to be impaired and imposed a Suspension order for 6 months. This is the first substantive review of that order.
6. At the outset of this hearing a letter from the Registrant dated 25 August 2017 was produced. In it she said that she was referring herself to the HCPC for serious concerns relating to recruitment irregularities from East Riding of Yorkshire Council where she had been employed as a Care Coordinator within the Adult Safeguarding Team. She had failed to disclose to her new employer her previous employment with Hull City Council or that she had been subject to an HCPC final hearing which resulted in Suspension Order being imposed. She attended an investigation meeting of Yorkshire Council on 15 August 2017 following which, she resigned with immediate effect. This resignation was accepted. The Registrant concluded the letter by saying that she accepted it was time to end her career as a Social Worker and would like the HCPC to remove her name from the Register.
7. Mr Thompson for the HCPC detailed the background. He submitted that on all of the evidence before the Panel the Registrant’s fitness to practise remained impaired. He reminded the Panel of its powers and referred to the HCPC’s Indicative Sanctions Policy.
8. Mr Galvin for the Registrant submitted that in all of the circumstances the Registrant accepted that her fitness to practise remained impaired. He further submitted that a sanction would be required and it should remain as a sanction of Suspension. Although there had also been a recent self-referral which may lead to fitness to practise proceedings, the matter had not yet gone before the Investigation Committee.
9. The Panel considered all of the material before it including her reflections dated 28 08 17 and her self referral letter and attached reflection dated 25 08 17. The Panel also considered the advice given by the Legal Assessor. It first considered whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired. In making this decision the Panel noted the HCPTS’s practise note ‘finding that fitness to practise is impaired’.
10. The Panel considered the two component parts relating to impairment, the ‘personal component and the ‘public’ component.
11. It first considered the ‘personal component, whether the conduct was remediable, whether it had been remedied and whether it was likely to be repeated.
12. The findings of the previous Panel related to a period of dishonesty. There was no suggestion of any lack of competence. The Registrant has since shown some understanding of the consequences of her behaviour. She has demonstrated an understanding of the effects of what the dishonesty might have upon her profession and the standards she must uphold to, but her reflective piece dated 28 August 2017 does not indicate the motive for her dishonest behaviour. Despite her statement in her reflection that she had learnt from her behaviour and will not repeat it, the Panel notes that she apparently sought to conceal the HCPC final hearing findings to another employer. The Panel does not therefore consider that the behaviour which led to the findings of misconduct has been remediated and there remains a risk of repetition. The Panel does not consider that all parts of the ‘personal’ component of impairment have been met. The Panel therefore finds that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired on the basis of the ‘personal’ component of impairment.
13. The Panel also considered the ‘public’ component of impairment. It noted the need to address the “critically important public policy issues” as identified in Cohen [2008 EWHC 581(Admin)] - to protect service users, declare and uphold proper standards of behaviour and maintain public confidence in the profession.
14. The final hearing panel suggested that the Reviewing Panel may be assisted by the attendance of the Registrant, along with the submission of the reflective piece and testimonials. The Registrant did not submit any testimonials but did submit a reflective piece in relation to the previous Panel’s findings. Whilst this Panel notes that the Registrant acknowledges and apologises for her dishonest behaviour, demonstrating some insight, this does not explain the reasons for such behaviour. Despite her assertions in the reflective piece, the Registrant in August 2017 in the self-referral to the HCPC admitted another act of potential dishonesty this time relating to the concealment of her previous employment and fitness to practice proceedings against her. Given this, the Panel is not satisfied that the Registrant had remediated her behaviour and so her fitness to practice remains impaired.
15. Having found that the Registrant’s fitness to practise remains impaired, the Panel considered the question of sanction. In deciding what sanction, if any, to impose, the Panel reminded itself that the purpose of sanctions is not to be punitive but to protect service users and the public interest, although a sanction may have a punitive effect. The Panel has taken into account the principle of proportionality, balancing the interests of the public with those of the Registrant.
16. The Panel started with the least restrictive sanction, moving upwards. The Panel first considered taking no action but concluded that, given the nature of the Registrant's misconduct, this would be inappropriate.
17. The Panel then considered whether to make a Caution Order. However, the finding of dishonesty coupled with the fact that this was not an isolated or a minor incident meant that it was too serious for a caution order to be considered appropriate.
18. The Panel next considered the imposition of a Conditions of Practice Order, but deemed this to be inappropriate as it would not be possible to produce workable and measurable conditions to address this dishonest behaviour.
19. The Panel next considered a Suspension Order and concluded that this was the appropriate and proportionate sanction, both to protect the public and to meet the wider public interest. Given the serious nature of the Registrant's conduct, together with the apparent repetition of potential dishonesty but with the Registrant’s subsequent developing insight, the Panel is satisfied that a Suspension Order is proportionate. The Panel considers that the length of the Suspension Order should be 12 months.
20. The Panel considered the imposition of a Striking Off Order but determined that currently this would be disproportionate as the Registrant is attempting to reflect on and address her dishonest behavior. The Panel is mindful that there is a possible outstanding Fitness to Practice matter that the Registrant self referred to the HCPC. However, this matter has yet to be progressed. Given that the Panel is of the view that the impairment could be remedied, it considers that a Striking Off Order would be disproportionate at this time, although all options in relation to sanction would be open to a future reviewing Panel.
21. A future review Panel may be assisted by further reflection from the Registrant along with testimonials and an update on the potential FTP matter from the HCPC.
History of Hearings for Ms Deborah Johnson
|Date||Panel||Hearing type||Outcomes / Status|
|20/10/2017||Conduct and Competence Committee||Review Hearing||Suspended|
|20/04/2017||Conduct and Competence Committee||Final Hearing||Suspended|
|12/01/2017||Conduct and Competence Committee||Final Hearing||Adjourned part heard|