Ms Pauline F Hanchard
(As amended by the Panel of the Conduct and Competence Committee at the substantive hearing on 20 November 2017)
(As amended by the Panel of the Conduct and Competence Committee at the substantive hearing on 20 November 2017)
During the course of your employment as a Social Worker for Wolverhampton City Council, you
1. In relation to Family 1:
a) You did not complete assessments in relation to Child 1a, 1b, 1c, 1d and/or 1e as requested by 8 March 2015 and/or at all;
b) You did not enter records on the Care First system in a timely manner;
c) From 4 March 2015 you did not carry out and/or record fortnightly home visits as required;
d) You did not take appropriate safeguarding steps and/or record that you had taken those steps when you were informed by Witness 3 of an injury to a child in Family 1 on or around 15 April 2015, in that you did not:
i. inform your manager of the concerns; and/or
ii. organise a strategy meeting.
2. In relation to Family 2:
a) Between approximately 17 December 2014 and 2 February 2015, you did not complete fortnightly visits as required by the child protection plan;
b) Between the dates of 19 March 2015 and 25 March 2015 you did not:
i. follow up on the referral to Supporting Adolescents in Families (SAIF); and/or
ii. make any case recordings to justify your actions at 2 bi);
c) Between approximately 18 December 2014 and 3 March 2015 you did not arrange and/or record core group meetings in relation to Child 2b and/or Child 2c;
d) You did not enter records on the Care First system in a timely manner.
3. On one or more occasions in or around December 2014, you advised your manager and/or managers that you were re-registered with the HCPC when this was not the case,
4. Your actions as described at paragraph 3 were dishonest
5. The matters described in paragraphs 1 and 2 amount to misconduct and/or lack of competence,
6. The matters described in paragraphs 3 and 4 amount to misconduct.
7. By reason of your misconduct and/or lack of competence, your fitness to practise is impaired.
1. The Panel found that there had been good service of the proceedings, in accordance with rule 3 of the Health and Care Professions Council (Conduct and Competence Committee) (Procedure) Rules 2003 by notice dated 2 August 2017.
Proceeding in absence
2. The Panel next considered whether to proceed with the hearing in the absence of the Registrant. The Panel was advised by the Legal Assessor to consider the guidance in the HCPTS Practice Note entitled Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant and followed that advice.
3. The Registrant attended the commencement of the hearing by telephone and was encouraged to participate in the hearing. The Registrant repeatedly stressed that she did not want to delay the proceedings. She stated that the prospect of the hearing had caused her anxiety and that she wanted to put it all behind her. Furthermore, she explained that she was caring for her adult son who was unwell and also dealing with building contractors at her property. After being allowed time to consider her position the Registrant stated that she did not wish to take part in the hearing except to make oral submissions after the conclusion of the HCPC’s evidence. Furthermore, she did not want the hearing to be adjourned.
4. Whilst the Panel recognised that there would be a disadvantage to the Registrant in proceeding in her absence it had to weigh the Registrant’s interests against the public interest. The Panel is satisfied that the Registrant has waived her right to attend this hearing. It is in the public interest that the hearing proceeds today, witnesses are in attendance to give evidence and no injustice will be caused to the Registrant if the case proceeds. The available options have been fully explained to the Registrant. She has requested that the hearing proceeds as listed.
5. The Panel continued the hearing in the absence of the Registrant. However she then made an oral statement to the Panel, by telephone, at the conclusion of the HCPC’s case but chose not to give evidence on oath.
6. The HCPC made an application to amend the particulars of the Allegation.
7. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and considered whether there was any unfairness or prejudice to the Registrant, by reason of the proposed amendments, which are intended to clarify the HCPC’s case in accordance with the evidence. The Panel determined that there is no prejudice to the Registrant from this application and she has not raised any objection following notification of the proposed amendments on 30 November 2016 (save for some additional minor amendments). The Panel granted the amendment application in order to clarify the HCPC’s case.
8. The Registrant, Ms Hanchard, was employed as a Social Worker at Wolverhampton City Council (‘the Council’) from 30 June 2003 in the Family Advice Support Team. From October 2014, the Registrant joined the Duty and Assessment Team at Berries Social Unit. In February 2015 an investigation was commenced in relation to the Registrant’s failure to re-register with the HCPC. This investigation was conducted by CK. Also in February 2015 TW identified significant capability issues with regard to the Registrant’s practice and informal capability procedures were implemented. TT was commissioned to undertake an investigation into aspects of the Registrant’s work but the Registrant did not engage with the investigation. The Registrant was suspended from work on 27 April 2015.
9. The Panel has considered sequentially:
(1) whether the factual particulars are proved;
(2) if the proved facts amount to misconduct and/or lack of competence, and if so;
(3) is the Registrant’s fitness to practise currently impaired?
10. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor that the burden of proof is upon the HCPC on the balance of probabilities, in relation to findings of fact. Whether any proved facts in this case amount to the statutory grounds of misconduct or lack of competence and the issue of current impairment are not matters which need to be proved, but are matters of judgement for the Panel.
11. The Panel heard oral evidence from the following HCPC witnesses:
12. TT (External Investigator) via video link - The Panel found TT to be credible and reliable. TT was clear about the limitations of her knowledge. Her evidence was mainly focused upon the investigatory process that she undertook and what witnesses had told her about the matter she was investigating.
13. TW (Social Worker employed by the Council) - TW was open and credible in giving her evidence. TW had a good recall of most of the matters in question. She was taken through the details of the particulars of the Allegation and she explained the support that had been offered to the Registrant to enable her to perform her duties effectively.
14. BD (formerly employed by the Council as a Senior Consultant Social Worker) - The Panel found BD was credible but was not entirely reliable in her recall of the events. BD’s evidence mainly related to the Registrant’s re-registration with the HCPC. She generally had limited contact with the Registrant whom she did not directly line manage.
15. TH (Head of School A) - The Panel found TH to be a credible witness. TH could not directly recall most of the events detailed in his witness statement.
16. CK (Senior Social Work Manager employed by the Council) by telephone - The Panel found CK to be a credible and reliable witness. Her evidence was mostly focussed upon what witnesses had told her about the matters she was investigating. CK was able to speak to the details of her curtailed interview with the Registrant.
17. The HCPC applied for the Panel to admit the written statement of DA, a Registration Manager at the HCPC, as hearsay evidence. The Panel granted this application.
18. The Panel also heard an oral statement from the Registrant by telephone after the close of the HCPC’s case. She stated that she did not deal with child protection cases during her social work training and did not receive training from the Council when she joined the Duty and Assessment Team at Berries Social Work Unit. She said that she would love to return to social work and has a passion for looking after children and young people. Whilst the Registrant made a generalised statement to the effect that she did not deny making mistakes, she made no specific response to the Allegation except with regard to the dishonesty particular, which she strongly denied.
Decision on Facts:
19. The Panel finds the Registrant was required to provide assessments in accordance with the Child in Need Plan for Family 1. The relevant action plan required an assessment for all the children to have been completed initially by 8 March 2015, a deadline later extended to 20 March 2015. By 20 March 2015 the assessments had not been carried out. The Registrant was then asked to do this work by 16 April 2015 and to do a further four assessments by 21 April 2015 but she did not complete or write up these assessments. She did not complete assessments in relation to Children 1a, 1b, 1c, 1d and/or 1e as stipulated by 20 March 2015 or at all. The Panel were provided with documentary evidence relating to this particular, including the Registrant’s capability action plan. In her live evidence TW stated that due to the prolonged delay in the Registrant completing the five outstanding assessments, TW had completed them herself. The Panel finds this particular is proved.
20. “CareFirst” is the electronic recording system used by the Council when recording all contact with Children and Families. When a statutory visit has been conducted, a recording of the visit should be entered on CareFirst, within 24 hours.
21. The Panel received legal advice in relation to the interpretation of this particular as well as particular 2d.
22. The way in which this particular is stated in the Allegation could be interpreted as suggesting that the Registrant never entered any records on Care First in a timely manner. However, in the evidence matrix presented by the HCPC at the outset of the case it is clear that this particular is put forward on a rather more narrow basis, namely that the Registrant did not enter records of a Strategy Meeting held on 10 February 2015 and assessments for children in Family 1 (which it is alleged in particular 1a. were never actually completed) in a timely manner. The Panel has decided that despite the rather ambiguous wording of the particular in comparison to the case put forward by the HCPC it is reasonable to consider the particular in relation to the discrete set of records specified in the HCPC evidence matrix.
23. Assessments were not recorded by the Registrant on this system, as required, by 11 March 2015. TW then requested the Registrant to complete the assessments (initially by 20 March 2015 extended to 16 April 2015 for one report, and 21 April 2015 for the remaining assessments). However, these assessments were not recorded on the Care First System in a timely manner.
24. Accordingly, in the Panel’s judgement it is clear, based upon it’s findings in relation to particular 1a, that the Registrant never entered records for the assessments of the children in Family 1 in a timely manner, not least because she never actually completed the assessments. With regard to the Strategy meeting minutes, which were recorded on 18 February 2015, the Panel finds that the delay was relatively short and the Registrant met the revised deadline imposed by her manager TW for entering the minutes on Care First. However, the Wolverhampton City Council policy and procedure for Strategy Meeting/Discussion stipulates that “Agreed action points, timescales, roles and responsibilities and a mechanism for reviewing completion of the action points must be recorded and circulated to all parties within one working day”. Therefore the Panel includes this record as part of its reason for finding particular 1b) proved.
25. An Initial Child in Need Meeting held on 24 February 2015 determined that fortnightly home visits should be made by the Registrant to Family 1. She conducted visits on 18 February 2015 and 4 March 2015 (as recorded in the case notes for Family 1) but from 4 March 2015 there is no record showing that the Registrant conducted visits to Family 1. The Panel finds that from 4 March 2015 the Registrant did not carry out and/or record fortnightly home visits to Family 1, as required. There are no home visits recorded on the case notes (after the home visit of 4 March 2015) although the Initial Child in Need Meeting had stipulated that visits should be conducted on a fortnightly basis. The documentary evidence was supported by the live evidence of TW which the Panel accepts is correct. Accordingly, this particular is proved.
26. The Panel finds that the Registrant received a telephone call from TH on 15 April 2015 but did not take appropriate safeguarding steps and/or record that she had taken those steps when informed by TH (Witness 3) about an injury to a child in Family 1. In particular, the Registrant did not inform her manager of the concerns, did not take appropriate safeguarding steps and/or record that she had taken those steps or organise a Strategy meeting. TW was not informed by the Registrant of the injury and became aware of the incident on 24 April 2015, when reviewing the Family’s file. When she was asked about this incident on 24 April 2015, the Registrant stated that she had informed TW. However, TW denied this assertion. TW’s evidence was corroborated by the written evidence of TH, who detailed a telephone conversation with TW, on 24 April 2015, in which she told him that she had found out about the incident via information she had found on the Registrant’s desk. TH said that TW told him that the incident on 15 April 2015 as well as an incident on 13 April 2015 had not been logged on Care First. There was no evidence that the Registrant had organised a Strategy meeting as stipulated in the Council’s policy. There is a record on Care First of the telephone conversation on 15 April 2015 between TH and the Registrant, in which TH informs the Registrant of the injury sustained by the child in Family 1 on that same day. The Registrant has detailed her planned response as: “Social Worker to discuss with parents, the importance of supervising children at all times.” This does not represent appropriate safeguarding steps as detailed in the Council’s policy. There is no indication that she planned to tell TW or arrange a Strategy meeting. Accordingly, particulars 1d)(i) and 1d)(ii) are proved.
27. Following an Initial Child Protection Conference (ICPC) on 17 December 2014 it was decided that fortnightly visits should be made to the children in Family 2 due to safeguarding concerns. This was also recorded in the statutory visit for Child 2a. On 2 January 2015, the Registrant was sent a reminder email. Between the ICPC on 17 December 2014 and 2 February 2015 there were no records of the Registrant conducting a statutory visit to the children in Family 2. The Panel finds she did not complete the fortnightly visits to Family 2 as required by the Child Protection Plan, despite an ICPC on 17 December 2014 stipulating that home visits should be conducted by the Registrant on a fortnightly basis. Within the relevant case notes is the record dated 2 January 2015 which states “Email sent to Pauline Hanchard advising: These children are on CP plans. There are no visits on Care First. Conference was 17.12.14. Urgent visit needed today.” The next recorded visit is 3 February 2015. The documentary evidence was supported by the live evidence of TW which the Panel accepts is correct. Accordingly this particular is proved.
28. SAIF is an intensive family support service. The purpose of making a referral to SAIF is to offer a short intensive period of care to a family. On 17 March 2015 it was reported that Child 2a had stamped on his brother’s face, leaving him with a black eye and bruising and the family situation was not seen to be improving. The Panel finds from the documentary evidence that TW actually made a referral to SAIF (on 19 March 2015) despite asking the Registrant to do so. TW did not explicitly ask the Registrant to follow up on this referral. In her written statement and live evidence she stated that she expected the Registrant to follow up this referral immediately as there were safeguarding concerns. In her written statement TW said that she asked the Registrant why she had not followed up the referral and the Registrant told her it was because the family were already being supported by ‘Improving Futures’. TW said that the Registrant disputed that the referral needed to be followed up. There is an email from LW of SAIF dated 1 April 2015 following up on the aforementioned referral and asking if it is still required. There is no evidence that the Registrant made contact with SAIF prior to going on annual leave on 25 March 2015. There is no evidence of any case recordings by the Registrant to justify why she did not follow up the referral to SAIF. The Panel finds particular 2b)(i) and 2b)(ii) proved.
29. Core Group Meetings should be conducted every four to six weeks. As the allocated social worker the Registrant would be responsible for chairing these meetings. The purpose of the Core Group meeting is to engage all professionals involved and monitor the Child Protection Plan. The Registrant was responsible for taking minutes and recording the notes on CareFirst. During Supervision on 13 February 2015, it was identified that she had not arranged and/or recorded any Core Groups for Child 2b and Child 2c since the ICPC on 17 December 2014. She was asked to record these Core Groups by 25 February 2015. Supervision on 3 March 2015 revealed that the Core Groups for Child 2b and 2c were still outstanding and were to be completed by 4 March 2015. The Core Groups were eventually held and recorded on 13 March 2015, for Child 2b and 2c. However, no Core Group meetings were arranged and/or recorded by the Registrant between 18 December 2014 and 3 March 2015, in relation to Child 2b and/or Child 2c. The Panel had sight of the case notes in relation to Child 2b and Child 2c. From these records it is clear that there were no records of Core Group meetings for either child, which were recorded by the Registrant for the time period in question. Also, based upon the supervision records of 3 March 2015, where TW is recorded as instructing the Registrant to hold Core Group meetings for these children as a matter of urgency, the Panel finds that Core Group meetings were not held for either child during this period. Accordingly, this particular is proved.
30. The HCPC submits that records were not completed by the Registrant in a timely manner in respect of the Family 2 Core Group Meeting notes from 30 December 2014 and 29 January 2015. (TW then requested they be completed by 25 February 2015, which was done). As regards a visit on 15 April 2015, TW requested that a record be completed by 6 May 2015 but this was not done. The Panel finds that as with particular 1b above, this particular is set out in the Allegation in very broad terms suggesting that the Registrant never entered records for Family 2 in a timely manner. However, the HCPC case is set out in their evidence matrix on the much more narrow basis of the Registrant not entering the notes of Core Group meetings held on 30 December 2014 and 29 January 2015 as well as a visit on 15 April 2015 (which all relate to Child 2a). The Panel decided that it was reasonable to consider this particular on the basis of the discrete set of records specified in the HCPC evidence matrix.
31. TW gave evidence that both of these Core Group Meetings were not recorded until 25 February 2015, which the Panel finds no reasonable person would consider to be recording in a timely manner. However in relation to the Core Group Meeting of 30 December 2014 there is an entry in CareFirst dated 30/12/2014 at 11:36:00 which states “CORE GROUP UNDERTAKEN - to observe Information see meeting update.” Additionally the CareFirst Record of 18/02/2015 states that “Pauline has completed core groups on 30.12.14 and 29.1.15...... Child 2a has his core groups recorded.” Therefore, given the records on CareFirst, these two aspects of this particular are not proved. With regard to the visit on 15 April 2015, the Registrant was suspended from work on 27 April 2015 and at this point had still not recorded the visit. The Panel considers this visit was not recorded in a timely manner. Therefore, this particular is proved solely on the basis of the non-recording of this meeting.
32. The Council’s ‘HCPC Registration Policy & Procedure’ states:
5.1: ‘Individual responsibility of the employee - to be individually responsible to register, pay and maintain registration with the HCPC…’
6.1: ‘An employee whose HCPC registration has lapsed is not eligible to practise as a Social Worker and cannot continue to undertake statutory duties attached to their Social work post.
6.3: ‘An employee in these circumstances will normally be subject to a fact finding investigation under the relevant policy (e.g. Disciplinary, Capability Procedure) unless there are exceptional circumstances.’
33. On 28 August 2014, the HCPC sent a letter to the Registrant notifying her that she was required to renew her registration with the HCPC by 30 November 2014 and that if she had failed to renew by 5 November 2014, she would be sent a notice of the HCPC’s intention to remove her from the register. Instructions on how to renew were included in this letter. A final notice was sent to her on 6 October 2014, stating that she was required to renew her registration by 30 November 2014. She did not respond and was de-registered from the HCPC register on 1 December 2014. On 4 December 2014 the Registrant was advised by letter to apply for re-admission and sent an email to TW and BD stating that she had not re-registered with the HCPC and was therefore unable to carry out social work tasks. On 30 December 2014 TW asked the Registrant if she had received confirmation of her registration renewal. The Registrant confidently said “yes I’ve got it now” but when TW checked the HCPC database she was still not registered. TW then spoke to her again and she retracted what she had said earlier and told TW the form had been returned, for her to re-send with a postal order. On 6 January 2015 the Registrant successfully applied to be re-admitted to the HCPC register. TW confirmed during a fact-finding meeting that she had been informed by the Registrant at least twice that the Registrant was registered with the HCPC, when this was not the case.
34. The Panel heard live evidence from both TW and BD in relation to this particular. During the employer’s internal investigation both TW and BD included reference to the Registrant having advised TW that she was re-registered with the HCPC, on more than one occasion, when this was not the case. However whilst giving live evidence neither TW or BD could identify a specific date when the Registrant told them that she was re-registered, when this was not the case, other than on 30 December 2014. The Panel finds on the balance of probabilities that the Registrant did tell TW on one occasion on 30 December 2014 that she had re-registered with the HCPC when this was not the case. Accordingly, this particular is found proved.
35. In respect of particular 4: the Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor that in accordance with the case of Ivey v Genting  UKSC 67 the legal test for dishonesty is as follows: When dishonesty is in question the fact-finding tribunal must first ascertain (subjectively) the actual state of the individual’s knowledge or belief as to the facts. The reasonableness or otherwise of his belief is a matter of evidence (often in practice determinative) going to whether he held the belief, but it is not an additional requirement that his belief must be reasonable; the question is whether it is genuinely held. When once his actual state of mind as to knowledge or belief as to facts is established, the question whether his conduct was honest or dishonest is to be determined by the fact-finder by applying the (objective) standards of ordinary decent people. There is no requirement that the defendant must appreciate that what he has done is, by those standards, dishonest.
36. The Panel was cognisant that the case of Ivey v Genting, referred to above, represented a change as to how the Panel should approach the law with regard to the test for dishonesty in regulatory proceedings. Accordingly, the Panel has specifically considered the Registrant’s knowledge and beliefs as to the facts in respect of particular 3. The Registrant stated that the HCPC informed her that she had not renewed her registration in time and she informed her manager of this. She was sent home to complete the HCPC registration form on 15 December 2014 and was not re-registered until 6 January 2015. She stated that she did not tell anyone that she had re-registered when she had not done so.
37. The Registrant was first notified that she was required to renew her HCPC registration on 28 August 2014. Despite a further final reminder from the HCPC on 6 October 2014 the Registrant allowed her registration to lapse on 1 December 2014, and informed TW and BD of this in an email on 4 December 2014. There was ongoing communication between the Registrant and TW and BD regarding her registration which culminated in the meeting on 30 December 2014, during which the Panel has found the Registrant told TW that she had successfully re-registered with the HCPC, when in fact she had not.
38. In her oral submission to the Panel the Registrant stated that she had not been dishonest in relation to her re-registration which was supported by the fact that she had informed her managers on 4 December 2014 that her registration had lapsed. She told the Panel that she had no reason to lie. In assessing the Registrant’s knowledge or beliefs as to the facts the Panel is clear that given that her re-admission form, which was received by the HCPC on 22 December 2014, had been returned to her as incomplete the Registrant had no information on 30 December 2014 to lead her to believe that she had successfully re-registered with the HCPC. Therefore, the Panel finds that the Registrant deliberately misled TW in telling her that she was re-registered on 30 December 2014 when she was not and that by the standards of ordinary decent people this was dishonest. Accordingly, this particular is proved.
Decision on Grounds:
39. At the time of the Allegation the Registrant was an experienced social worker with ten years post qualification experience. Although she had not previously worked in a Duty and Assessment team dealing with children subject to child protection plans or having Child in Need (CIN) status she had previously worked for the Family Advice Support Team (FAST) which supported vulnerable families with children often on the edge of care and her social work education and ten years of post qualification experience should have provided her with a thorough understanding of safeguarding vulnerable adults and children.
40. The maintenance of complete and timely records is a fundamental and universal requirement of social workers, whatever the specific client group or setting within which they are working. The need to organise Strategy and Core Group meetings and to conduct home visits in line with timescales determined by the Strategy meetings is stipulated in the Council’s Child Protection Policies of which the Registrant should have been aware. These are fundamental aspects of social work and as such the Registrant’s inexperience in working in child protection would not be relevant to her shortcomings in these areas.
41. The Panel notes that the Registrant failed to complete the safeguarding training which was available via the Council’s online learning portal despite being encouraged to do so. She was also afforded extra support via her line manager TW who the Panel heard accompanied the Registrant on some of her home visits. In addition, when the Registrant was moved into an informal capability process she was given fortnightly as opposed to the standard monthly supervision but failed to improve her performance.
42. Therefore, the Panel finds the Registrant’s failings were not based on a lack of competence.
43. Having found that the Registrant’s failings were not attributable to a lack of competence the Panel went on to consider the question of misconduct. In the Panel’s view it is clear that the Registrant knew what she should have been doing in respect of the tasks that are the subject of the Allegation, often receiving reminders from her manager, but simply failed to carry these out. The Registrant’s failings can be categorised under the headings of: record keeping, failing to organise Core Group and Strategy meetings, failing to act upon safeguarding concerns and failing to conduct visits and dishonesty.
44. In the Panel’s view, based upon the materials before it and the live evidence, there was a serious risk of harm to the children in Family 1 due to neglect and a serious risk of harm to the children in Families 1 and 2 due to the injuries sustained by them. During the time the Registrant held these case the frequency of visits was increased from monthly to fortnightly due to the seriousness of the risks to vulnerable service users. The Registrant’s failure to carry out the required visits to these children would be regarded as deplorable by her fellow practitioners.
45. Her failures in respect of Core Group meetings, Strategy meetings, assessments and record keeping gave rise to a lack of support for the children. In particular the failures in respect of the referral on 15 April 2015 with regard to a finger injury to a young child from Family 1 resulted in a lack of proper safeguarding measures being put in place for a significant period following the injury. The evidence produced, including the relevant chronology, shows a significant number of referrals had occurred before and after the 15 April 2015 which highlighted the ongoing safeguarding risks to the children in this family.
46. Although the Panel’s finding of dishonesty only related to one specific instance, it still represents a fundamental breach of the standards expected of a social worker and as such, in and of itself, meets the threshold for misconduct.
47. The Panel has found that the Registrant has breached the following HCPC Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics (2012):
• 1 - You must act in the best interests of service users.
• 10 - You must keep accurate records.
• 13 - You must behave with honesty and integrity and make sure that your behaviour does not damage the public’s confidence in you or your profession.
48. The Panel finds that the Registrant’s conduct fell far below the standards to be expected of a social worker and therefore concludes that the Allegation of misconduct arising from the factual particulars found proved is well founded in respect of each factual particular.
Decision on Impairment:
49. The Panel considered the HCPC Practice Note on Finding that Fitness to Practice is Impaired. In determining whether fitness to practise is impaired, Panels must take account of a range of issues which, in essence, comprise two components:
(1) the ‘personal’ component: the current competence, behaviour etc. of the individual registrant; and
(2) the ‘public’ component: the need to protect service users, declare and uphold proper standards of behaviour and maintain public confidence in the profession.
50. The HCPC submits that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired on public and personal grounds as set out in the HCPTS Practice Note on Finding that Fitness to Practise is Impaired.
51. The test of impairment is expressed in the present tense in that fitness to practise is impaired at the current date. The Panel has taken into account the lapse of time since these matters occurred, but has also looked at the Registrant’s past actions in order to assess the likelihood of future misconduct.
52. With regard to the personal component, the Panel notes that the Council put in place an action plan to assist the Registrant with fortnightly support but there was no real improvement in her practise, despite her experience and qualifications.
53. The Panel found that whilst in theory the Registrant’s failings are remediable, even taking account of the finding of dishonesty, there has been no evidence presented to the Panel of any remediation with regard to the Registrant’s shortcomings. Consequently, the Panel finds that there is a real risk of repetition of her misconduct.
54. The Panel notes and took account of the fact that the Registrant’s failings occurred over a relatively short period of time, December 2014 - April 2015.
55. During her oral submissions to the Panel, whilst the Registrant in effect blamed the Council for her shortcomings by not providing her with adequate training and support, she demonstrated scant insight into the potentially serious impact of her failings on the service users in question, the reputation of the Council and that of the profession.
56. The Registrant also did not express any remorse for her actions and omissions.
57. Taking all of the above factors into account the Panel finds that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired on the personal component.
58. The Panel has taken into account the critically important public policy issues relating to making a finding of impairment identified by Dame Janet Smith in the 5th Shipman report. In the Panel’s judgement the Registrant put service users at unwarranted risk of harm and through her actions has brought the profession into disrepute. The Registrant has, through her dishonesty, breached one of the fundamental tenets of the profession and in so doing acted in such a way that her honesty and integrity can no longer be relied upon.
59. In relation to the public component the Panel has found that the Registrant’s actions have brought the profession into disrepute and therefore if a finding of impairment were not made there would be a real risk of undermining public confidence in the profession and the regulatory process. By allowing her HCPC registration to lapse the Registrant’s actions had the potential to damage the reputation of her employer and also had a very real impact on her team’s ability to manage its workload. Through her dishonesty the Registrant has violated a fundamental tenet of the profession and the Panel is conscious of the need to uphold, declare and maintain proper standards of conduct in the profession which requires a finding of impairment. Accordingly, the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired on the pubic component.
Further decision to proceed in the absence of the Registrant:
60. Before handing down the above decision the Panel considered whether to make a further attempt to contact the Registrant by telephone. The Panel heard a submission from Ms Sheridan that it was not appropriate to do so in view of the guidance in the HCPTS Practice Note entitled: Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant. The Panel also received information from the Hearing Officer that the Registrant had contacted the HCPC by telephone on 21 November 2017 at about 3.50pm after the Panel had retired to consider the above decision. In the telephone call with a member of the HCPC Scheduling Team she had not indicated a wish to take further part in this hearing. Accordingly, the Panel decided it would proceed in the absence of the Registrant, based upon the above Practice Note, the Registrant’s previous lack of engagement and the lack of an indication that she wished to further engage with this process. There is a duty on the Panel to proceed expeditiously and avoid unnecessary delay.
Decision on Sanction:
61. The purpose of fitness to practise proceedings is not to punish registrants, but to protect the public. In coming to its decision on sanction the Panel has given careful consideration to all the circumstances of this case and all the evidence which contributed to its findings on the facts, the statutory ground and current impairment.
62. The Panel considered the submissions made on behalf of the HCPC and has accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. In accordance with that advice the Panel has had due regard to the HCPC Indicative Sanctions Policy (ISP). The Panel has noted that any sanction must be proportionate and that it is not intended to be punitive although it may have a punitive effect. A sanction should be no more than is necessary to meet the legitimate purposes of providing adequate protection to the public and otherwise meeting the wider public interest in protecting the reputation of the profession, maintaining confidence in the regulatory system, and declaring and upholding proper professional standards.
63. The Panel first identified the aggravating and mitigating factors that it should take into account.
64. The aggravating factors are:
• There is limited insight and no evidence of remediation and a real risk of repetition.
• As a consequence of her failures the Registrant put vulnerable service users at risk of harm.
• There is no evidence of remorse or acknowledgement of wrongdoing in respect of the dishonesty finding.
• There has been only limited engagement with the fitness to practise process
65. The mitigating features are:
• The Registrant’s previous unblemished record with the HCPC.
• Her difficult personal circumstances, at the time.
• The period during which her HCPC registration had lapsed was just over 1 month and the other matters arose during a relatively short period.
66. In deciding what, if any, sanction to impose under Article 29 of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001, the Panel had regard to the principle of proportionality and the need to balance the interests of the public with those of the Registrant.
67. In light of the Panel’s findings, taking No Action would not be appropriate. Furthermore, Mediation is not relevant to the circumstances of this case.
68. The Panel has decided that a Caution Order is not an appropriate sanction in this case. The Panel finds a Caution Order would be contrary to the ISP because her misconduct was not isolated, limited or minor. There is a lack of insight and no remedial action has been taken by the Registrant and therefore there is risk of recurrence. There are no exceptional circumstances to justify a departure from the ISP in this particular case. A Caution Order would not provide adequate public protection or satisfy the public interest.
69. The ISP also states that Conditions of Practice are unlikely to be suitable in cases involving dishonesty and where conditions are unlikely to resolve the issues which have arisen. The Registrant’s misconduct with regard to managing her caseload continued despite her being required to undertake the Council’s capability process. The Panel concludes that Conditions of Practice are not an appropriate and proportionate sanction in this case due to the fact that the Registrant’s failings are capable of remediation, in theory, and are not generalised but appropriate conditions would be difficult to formulate due to the lack of engagement. It is doubtful that the Registrant would comply with conditions given the lack of insight and the serious failings identified including dishonesty and her denial of any wrongdoing. The Panel also concluded that a Conditions of Practice Order would not satisfy the public interest.
70. The Panel concludes that a Suspension Order is appropriate despite the risk of repetition. There are no psychological or other reasons preventing the Registrant from remediating her misconduct and a suspension will protect the public and on balance is sufficient to satisfy the public interest. The Registrant’s dishonesty is not at the upper end of the scale and a suspension is a sufficient deterrent to other registrants. The Panel considered imposing a Striking Off order. Striking Off is a sanction of last resort and the Panel considers that the Registrant could address her impairment during a period of suspension.
71. The Panel determined that the Suspension Order should be for a period of 12 months. The Suspension Order will be reviewed by a Panel before it expires and the reviewing Panel is likely to be assisted by the following:
• The Registrant’s attendance at the review hearing
• The Registrant’s written reflections upon this Panel’s findings and the impact of her misconduct on service users and the reputation of the profession
• A reference from any employer in relation to any work, paid or unpaid, undertaken by the Registrant in the period following this hearing
• Evidence that her social work skills and knowledge have been kept up to date.
You may appeal to the High Court in England and Wales against the Panel’s decision and the order it has made against you.
Under Article 29(10) of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001, any appeal must be made within 28 days of the date when this notice is served on you. The Panel’s order will not take effect until the appeal period has expired or, if you appeal, until that appeal is disposed of or withdrawn.
European alert mechanism:
In accordance with Regulation 67 of the European Union (Recognition of Professional Qualifications) Regulations 2015, the HCPC will inform the competent authorities in all other EEA States that your right to practise has been prohibited.
You may appeal to the County Court against the HCPC’s decision to do so. Any appeal must be made within 28 days of the date when this notice is served on you. This right of appeal is separate from your right to appeal against the decision and order of the Panel.
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; (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 on 2 August 2017 that such an application might be made, and she has not responded with regard to that warning.
3) The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor to consider whether an interim order was necessary to protect the public and in the public interest because of the nature and seriousness of the findings against the Registrant. The Panel has made findings which identify clear public interest concerns, a factor in favour of proceeding in the Registrant’s absence. The Panel finds it is unlikely that an adjournment would secure the Registrant’s attendance and is satisfied that it is appropriate to direct that the Registrant’s registration should be suspended on an interim basis. The order is required to for protection of the public, and a fair minded member of the public would be dismayed by the absence of such a restriction. 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.
History of Hearings for Ms Pauline F Hanchard
|Date||Panel||Hearing type||Outcomes / Status|
|20/11/2017||Conduct and Competence Committee||Final Hearing||Suspended|