Ms Lucy Cummings

: Social worker

: SW106989

: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing:10:00 20/11/2017 End: 17:00 22/11/2017

: Etc venues, Prospero House, 241 Borough High Street, London SE1 1GA

: Conduct and Competence Committee
: Struck off

Allegation

Whilst registered with the HCPC as a Social Worker, and during the course of your employment as a support worker at Positive Action in the Community (PAC):

1. Between around 27 November 2016 - 19 December 2016 you conducted an inappropriate personal relationship with Service User A

2. In or around January 2016 you allowed Service User B to sit on your lap

3. On or around 14 May 2015 you:

a. Met with Service User C:

i. outside of working hours

ii. out of view of PAC's CCTV cameras

b. Bought Service User C chips and a drink

4. On or around 8 December 2016 you indicated that you had not renewed your registration with the HCPC, which was not the case, in that you had submitted your renewal form between around 23-25 November 2016.

5. Your actions at paragraphs 1-3 were sexually motivated.

6. Your actions at paragraph 4 were dishonest.

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

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

 

Finding

Preliminary matters:

Service

1. The Panel had sight of a letter dated 18 September 2017, sent to the Registrant at her registered address, giving notice of today’s hearing, and determined that service had been properly complied with in accordance with the Health Professions Council Rules 2003 (“the Rules”).
Proceeding in absence

2. Ms Hastie of the HCPC applied to proceed in the absence of the Registrant. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor, who took the Panel to Rule 11 and to the guidance given in the cases of R–v- Jones (2003) 1 AC 1, Tait –v The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons [2003] UKPC 34 and GMC – v Adeogba [2016] EWCA Civ 162.

3. The Panel had sight of an email dated 8 September 2017 from the Registrant to the HCPC saying:
  “I am unable to attend the hearings due to time and finances as I live in the North”.

4. The Panel had sight of the HCPC’s response, informing the Registrant that the HCPC may be able to assist with financial support to enable the Registrant to attend if she wished to do so, or alternatively that it may be possible to attend the hearing by telephone should she wish for that. The HCPC warned the Registrant that the Panel might proceed in her absence if she did not attend the hearing.

5. The Panel was informed that the HCPC had received no further communication from the Registrant.

6. The Panel concluded that the Registrant had decided not to attend. She had not responded to the HCPC’s response to the email of 8 September 2017, nor had she made an application to adjourn. The Panel decided that it was unlikely that she would attend if the matter were to be adjourned. The Panel noted that there were two witnesses ready to give evidence and that the events in question dated back to 2015 and 2016. The Panel concluded that it was in the public interest for the matter to be heard expeditiously, particularly in the light of the serous nature of the allegations. Accordingly, the Panel decided to proceed today in the absence of the Registrant.

Application to amend the allegation

7. On behalf of the HCPC, Ms Hastie offered no evidence in relation to an allegation concerning a different service user, Service User B, and applied to amend the Paragraph that now forms Paragraph 4, by substituting the words “paragraphs 1-3” with the words “paragraph 1”. The Panel concluded that these proposed amendments clearly cause no prejudice to the Registrant in that they reduce the scope of the allegation, and are in the interests of justice because they better reflected the current state of the evidence. Accordingly, the Panel decided to allow this application.

8. Ms Hastie applied to amend the stem of the allegation by substituting the word “and” with the words “and/or”, on the basis that the events relating to Paragraph 2 occurred during the Registrant’s employment, but not whilst she was registered with the HCPC. The Panel concluded that this proposed amendment was based on an accurate and fair reflection of the evidence the HCPC proposed to call, and that it was in the interests of justice to allow this amendment also.

Witnesses

9. The Panel heard live evidence from:

Witness 1 – Investigation Officer and Manager of Positive Action in the Community (PAC).

Witness 2 – the Registrant’s line manager.

10. The Panel also received written evidence from:

Witness 3 – Registration Manager for the HCPC.

Background

11. The Registrant first registered with the HCPC as a social worker on 28 September 2015. She submitted a Renewal Form, which was received by the HCPC on 24 November 2016, causing her registration to be renewed on 25 November 2016.

12. In April 2014, the Registrant commenced employment as a Support Worker with Safe Space, a Positive Action in the Community (PAC) project providing accommodation to young and homeless people aged 16 to 25. Her day to day role was to support young people moving into supported accommodation, complete assessments of new arrivals, create support plans to help to enable residents to learn to live independently and support residents to move to independent accommodation.

13. It was alleged that between 27 November 2016 and 19 December 2016   the Registrant developed a relationship with a young vulnerable service user, Service User A, and that this relationship was sexually motivated.

14. It was alleged that she had previously, in 2015, met with Service User C outside of working hours and out of view of PAC’s CCTV cameras, and had been warned about maintaining professional boundaries.

15. It was also alleged that in the course of the ensuing internal investigation the Registrant dishonestly stated that she had not renewed her HCPC Registration whereas in fact, to her knowledge, she had done so a couple of weeks earlier.

Decision on Facts:

16. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor, who referred the Panel to the definition of dishonesty provided by the case of Ivey v Genting Casinos (UK) Ltd t/a Crockfords [2017] UKSC 67. The Panel did not allow the Registrant’s absence to influence its judgement on the facts of the case in any way.

17. The Panel considered Witness 1 and Witness 2 to be reliable and credible witnesses.

Paragraph 1: Between around 27 November 2016 -19 December 2016 conducted an inappropriate personal relationship with Service User A

Paragraph 4: Your actions at Paragraph 1 were sexually motivated

18. The Panel heard that at the relevant time Service User A was aged 19, and very vulnerable. She did not have the support of her family and quickly formed attachments to people. It was believed that there had been domestic abuse in the family home, and that she had had some mental health difficulties which had resulted in self harm. Furthermore, she had been exploited in her recent placement and so a number of agencies had been brought in to help her.

19. Witness 2 said that as soon as the Registrant arrived concerns arose about her relationship with Service User A. The Registrant was observed to take longer on activities with Service User A than necessary, for example, on 25 November 2016 a trip to collect a food donation took approximately three times longer than it should have done. She was therefore reminded about the importance of maintaining professional boundaries. She agreed to distance herself from Service User A. On 29 November 2016 Witness 2 held a supervision session with the Registrant and reinforced this need.

20. It was alleged that on the evening of 29 November 2016, another Support Worker claimed that Service User A had disclosed that she had formed a relationship with a female, and that the description of the female bore a close resemblance to the Registrant.

21. On 30 November 2016, the Registrant was asked to sign the relevant extract of PAC’s Professional Boundaries policy, which she did, and was then moved to a different site.

22. Witness 2 asserted that on 3 December 2016 he witnessed the Registrant picking up Service User A in her car outside Service User A’s home, outside of work hours. The Registrant did not report this contact. She was suspended from work pending a full investigation.

23. In the course of the investigation, Witness 1 interviewed the Registrant, who confirmed that:

i. She had been spoken to on 25 November 2016 about the fact that Service User A had formed an attachment to her and had been asked to remove herself from interactions with Service User A.

ii. During a supervision session on 29 November 2016, she was spoken to again about Service User A’s unhealthy attachment to her, and on 30 November 2016, she was spoken to again and told that she would be moving to a different site until Service User A had moved out.

iii. She fully understood the professional boundaries policy and what was expected of her.

iv. She fully understood the email sent to her on 30 November 2016 re-iterating that she should not have contact with Service User A.

v. She had messaged Service User A on Facebook and seen her outside work.

vi. On 3 December 2016, she picked up Service User A in her car after 11pm and stayed with her until about 3 am.

vii. Since 3 December 2016 she had entered into a girlfriend and girlfriend relationship with Service User A.

viii. On 7 December 2016, she had stated on Facebook that she was in a relationship with Service User A

ix. As a support worker, she worked with children and vulnerable adults.

x. She had been spoken to about professional boundaries in supervision sessions on 15 May 2015, 12 June 2015 and 22 January 2016.

24. Witness 1 produced screenshots of the Registrant’s Facebook entries for the benefit of the Panel.

25. Witness 1 stated that on 7 December 2016, she witnessed the Registrant with Service User A and other service users and ex-service users at SafeSpace, whilst helping Service User A move from SafeSpace to her new home. At that time the Registrant was suspended pending the internal investigation, and was still under instructions not to see Service User A. Witness 1 said that this had a negative impact on the staff and service users, as by this time the Facebook posts about a relationship between the Registrant and Service User A had been posted and the young service users were talking about it.

26. The Panel concluded that Witness 1 and Witness 2 had provided clear evidence, based on their own observations, that the Registrant entered into a personal relationship with Service User A. The Registrant had been observed picking up Service User A from her home in out of work hours, and had been observed collecting Service User A at night to help load up her belongings. It was clear from the Registrant’s admissions in the course of her internal investigation interview, that the Registrant had formed a relationship with Service User A and that her actions had been sexually motivated, in that she described her relationship as a “girlfriend and girlfriend” relationship. The Facebook entries also clarified her sexual motivation, for example one entry read: “This is the cutest post ever. So lucky and very proud of you and you’ve been a diamond. Strong sparkling and beautiful. So happy and looking forward to our future. I love you too”.

27. This relationship was clearly inappropriate, in that Service User A was a young vulnerable service user, whereas the Registrant was engaged in a professional capacity as a Support Worker and was therefore in a position of trust and responsibility.

28. Accordingly, the Panel found Paragraph’s 1 and 4 proved.

Paragraph 2: On or around 14 May 2015:

a. Met with Service User C:

 i. outside of working hours
 ii. out of view of PAC's CCTV cameras

b. Bought Service User C chips ·and a drink

29. Witness 2 informed the Panel that previous concerns had been raised with the Registrant on or around 14 May 2015 about the maintenance of professional boundaries. This was connected with a number of Support Sessions that the Registrant had held with Service User C outside working hours. Witness 2 said that in connection with this he informed the Registrant about the need to hold sessions in full view of PAC’s CCTV cameras.

30. Witness 2 said that on 14 May 2015 the Registrant was observed to finish her shift on 14 May 2015 and leave the building at around 10.35 pm, taking Service User C with her. She returned around 20 minutes later with two portions of chips and two drinks. When Witness 2 questioned the Registrant about the second portions, she alleged that the Registrant claimed that they were for her own consumption.

31.  In an email to the HCPC dated 2 July 2017 the Registrant alleged that the second portions were for another support worker. However when this suggestion was put to Witness 2 in evidence, Witness 2 refuted it, saying it had been the other support worker who had raised the complaint in the first place.

32. The Panel found this Paragraph not proved on the basis that there was insufficient evidence to prove on the balance of probabilites that the Registrant had met with Service User C or that she had bought the second portion of food and drink for Service User C.

Paragraph 3: On or around 8 December 2016 you indicated that you had not renewed your registration with the HCPC, which was not the case, in that you had submitted your renewal form between around 23 - 25-November 2016

Paragraph 5: Your actions at Paragraph 3 were dishonest

33. Witness 1 said that in the Investigation interview of 8 December 2016 the Registrant claimed that she had not renewed her HCPC registration.

34. The Panel had sight of the record of interview which showed the following question and answer:

Q: “We received a notification that your social work registration expired in November. Have you renewed that?”

A: “No haven’t got around to it.

35. Witness 3 produced evidence that the Registrant’s registration had been renewed on 1 December 2016, after an application for renewal had been made by the Registrant on 23 November 2016, received by the HCPC on 24 November 2016.

36. The Panel concluded that the Registrant must have known, when she gave this answer in interview, that she had applied to renew her registration as she had done this only two weeks earlier. The Panel concluded that the Registrant knowingly told an untruth in her interview in the hope that this would prevent a report being made to her regulator, and that this was obviously dishonest by the standards of ordinary decent people.

37. Accordingly, the Panel found Paragraphs 3 and 5 proved.

Decision on Grounds

38. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor who addressed the Panel on the meaning of misconduct and impairment. She referred to the cases of  R-v- Roylance –v- General Medical Council No 2 [2001] 1 AC p311 and Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence v (1) Nursing and Midwifery council (2) Paula Grant [2011] EWHC 92 and Yeong –v- GMC [2009] EWHC 1923.

39. The Panel concluded that the Registrant’s actions in relation to Paragraphs 1 and 4 had involved a breach of trust in relation to a vulnerable service user. The Registrant knew that she was acting in breach of the relevant guidance and contrary to the action plans that had been put in place. Her behaviour was deliberate and deplorable and amounted to misconduct.

40. The Panel concluded that the Registrant’s dishonesty in the course of her investigation interview, found proved in Paragraphs 3 and 5, amounted to the telling of a deliberate lie in the course of an investigation interview, which was also deplorable and also amounted to misconduct.

Decision on Impairment

41. The Panel had not been provided with any evidence of remediation, remorse or insight and concluded, in light of the evidence, that the risk that the Registrant will repeat her misconduct is high. The Panel had been informed that it was believed that the Registrant continued to exist in a relationship with Service User A, and whilst the Panel had not been provided with any firm evidence in support of this, nevertheless it had not been provided with any representations from the Registrant to indicate that she had now severed her connection with Service User A, or that she now understood that her behaviour with Service User A had been inappropriate. Nor had she provided the Panel with an acceptance that her actions in relation to Paragraphs 3 and 5 had been wrong. Without evidence of remorse, remediation or insight the Panel concluded, in light of the matters found proved, that the Registrant placed service users at unwarranted risk of harm.
 
42. The Panel concluded that by her actions the Registrant had brought the profession into disrepute, had breached a fundamental tenet of the profession, and had acted dishonestly. In the Panel’s judgement her actions were detrimental to the welfare of a vulnerable service user and undermined confidence in the profession. The Panel concluded for these reasons that a finding of impairment is also needed to maintain confidence in the profession and the regulatory process.

Decision on Sanction

43. In considering what sanction, if any, to impose, the Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and referred to the Indicative Sanctions Policy.

44. The Panel bore in mind that its purpose was not to be punitive, but to protect the public interest. It understood that it must act proportionately, balancing the interests of the Registrant with those of the public. It considered the range of available sanctions in ascending order of seriousness, starting with the option of taking no action.

45. The Panel regarded the following to be mitigating features:

• the Registrant’s unblemished fitness to practise history

• the Registrant’s admission of the existence of the relationship

46. The Panel found the following to be aggravating factors:

• the Registrant had abused the trust of an extremely vulnerable service user.

• the Registrant had been warned repeatedly that her actions were in breach of the relevant policy regarding professional boundaries

• the Registrant was recently and qualified would have been well aware of the issues surrounding professional boundaries.

• the representations made by the Registrant in the course of her interviews suggested that she had no insight.

• the dishonesty had occurred in the course of an Investigation interview.

47. In view of the seriousness of the misconduct, to take no further action, to order mediation or to impose a caution order would not be sufficient to protect the public or maintain confidence in the profession and the regulatory process. It could not be said that the misconduct was minor; to the contrary it was extremely serious. The Registrant had shown no evidence of remediation or insight. It was the judgment of the Panel that there was a high risk of recurrence.

48. The Panel considered a Conditions of Practice Order, but concluded that this would not be sufficient in light of the seriousness of the sexually motivated relationship and the dishonesty. Furthermore, such an order would not be workable in light of the Panel’s finding of dishonesty, and because the Registrant had disengaged by not attending the hearing and therefore the Panel could not trust the Registrant to abide by any conditions that it might see fit to impose.

49. The Panel considered a Suspension Order and concluded that this would not be sufficient to protect the public or the public interest as the Registrant had been dishonest in the course of an Investigating interview, and had continued to conduct a sexually motivated relationship with a vulnerable service user despite numerous warnings from her employer about her failure to remain within appropriate professional boundaries. There was no evidence of remediation or insight and the risk of repetition was high. Further the public interest could not be satisfied by such an order in light of the seriousness of both the dishonesty and the sexually motivated relationship.

50. For the reasons set out in this determination the Panel concluded that a striking off order was the only appropriate order in the serious circumstances of this case. The Registrant’s misconduct amounted to serious dishonesty and the continuance of a sexual relationship with a vulnerable service user involving a breach of trust over an extended period of time. The Registrant had not remediated her actions, and had shown no insight.  It was the conclusion of the Panel that the risk that she would repeat her actions was high.

51. Further the Panel concluded that any lesser sanction would undermine confidence in the profession. In light of the seriousness of the Registrant’s actions, a striking off order was necessary to reaffirm clear standards of professional conduct in order to maintain public confidence in the profession and the regulatory process.

Interim Order:

The Panel makes an Interim Suspension Order under Article 31(2) of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001, the same being necessary to protect members of the public and being otherwise in the public interest.  This order will expire: (if no appeal is made against the Panel’s decision and Order) upon the expiry of the period during which such an appeal could be made; or (if an appeal is made against the Panel’s decision and Order) the final determination of that appeal, subject to a maximum period of 18 months.

Reasons for the making of an Interim Suspension Order:

(1)  Following the announcement of the sanction and the Registrant’s right of appeal, the Presenting Officer applied for an interim suspension order.

(2)  The Panel was satisfied that it was appropriate to consider the HCPC’s application for an interim order in the absence of the Registrant because she had been informed by the notice of hearing sent to her that such an application might be made, and she had not responded with regard to that warning.

(3)  The Panel is satisfied that the risk of repetition is high, and the harm that could result were there to be a repetition could be serious, given the Panel’s findings in this matter.  Accordingly, the Panel is satisfied that it is appropriate to direct that the Registrant’s registration should be suspended on an interim basis.  The order is required for protection of the public, and the Panel is also satisfied that the risks are sufficiently grave that a fair-minded member of the public would be shocked or troubled by the absence of such a restriction. The protection of the public and the public interest outweighs the Registrant’s interests in this instance. The Panel has concluded that the appropriate length of this interim suspension order should be 18 months, as the interim order would continue to be required pending the resolution of an appeal in the event of the Registrant giving notice of an appeal with the 28-day period.

Order

Order: That the Registrar is directed to strike the name of Miss Lucy Cummings from the register on the date this order comes into effect.


 

Notes

The order will apply on the expiry of the appeal period.

Hearing history

History of Hearings for Ms Lucy Cummings

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
20/11/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Struck off
17/10/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Interim Order Review Interim Suspension
30/01/2017 Investigating committee Interim Order Application Interim Suspension