Mrs Julie Newton

: Social worker

: SW91817

: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing:10:00 22/11/2017 End: 17:00 24/11/2017

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

: Conduct and Competence Committee
: Suspended

Allegation

Whilst registered as a Social Worker and employed as a Locum Social Worker by Plymouth City Council:

1. In relation to Child A, you:

a) recorded that you had seen and spoken with Child A on 19 January 2016 when in fact the child had not been present;

b) copied (or “grabbed”) sections of the Single Assessment from the previous report prepared in or around October 2015;

c) did not update the Single Assessment to reflect Child A's current situation.

2. In relation to Child B, recorded that you had visited Child B at home on 03 February 2016 when in fact Child B had not been visited.

3. Your actions in relation to particulars 1 and/or 2 were dishonest.

4. The matters set out at particulars 1-3 constitutes misconduct.

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

Finding

Preliminary matters

Service and proceeding in the absence of the Registrant

1. At the outset of the proceedings, the Registrant was neither present nor represented.

2. Mr Millin, on behalf of the HCPC, invited the Panel to proceed in the absence of the Registrant.

3. He submitted first that the Panel was entitled to proceed in the absence of the Registrant because there was good evidence that she had been served with Notice of the proceedings in accordance with the Health and Care Professions Council (Conduct and Competence) (Procedure) Rules 2003 ("the Rules"). He submitted secondly that the Panel should exercise its discretion to proceed in the absence of the Registrant because all the evidence indicated that she had disengaged from the HCPC proceedings and so voluntarily absented herself.

4. The Panel received the advice of the Legal Assessor, which it followed and is incorporated in its determination set out below.

5. Accordingly, the Panel approached the question in two stages. First, it considered whether it was entitled to proceed in the absence of the Registrant. Secondly, it considered whether, in all the circumstances, it should exercise its discretion to do so.

6. The Panel received evidence in the form of a Notice dated 11 September 2017 and a certificate of service which showed that Notice of the proceedings had been sent by first class post on 11 September 2017 to the address held by the HCPC on the Register of Social Workers and also by email to an email address supplied to the HCPC by the Registrant by telephone on 2 March 2017.

7. The Panel had regard to Rule 3 of the Rules, which provides that the sending of a Notice under the Rules can be effected by sending it to the Registrant's address as it appears in the Register. It also had regard to Rule 6, which provides that a registrant is entitled to 28 days’ notice of the hearing. Finally, it had regard to Rule 11, which provides that, "where the health professional is neither present nor represented at a hearing, the committee may nevertheless proceed with the hearing if it is satisfied that all reasonable steps have been taken to serve the notice of the hearing under Rule 6 (1) on the health professional.”

8. Finally, the Panel had regard to the guidance given to Panels by the Court of Appeal in GMC v Adeogba [2016] EWCA Civ 162, that in deciding whether reasonable steps had been taken to serve a registrant when Notice had been posted to his registered address, the Panel should bear in mind that the registrant was under an obligation to maintain an up-to-date address on the regulator’s register.

9. The Panel also noted that the HCPC had also sent a copy of the Notice to an email address supplied to the HCPC by the Registrant on the telephone on 2 March 2017.

10. In these circumstances, the Panel was satisfied that the HCPC had taken all reasonable steps to serve Notice of the proceedings on the Registrant by posting a Notice to the address held by the HCPC on the appropriate register.

11. The Panel then considered whether it should exercise its discretion to proceed in the Registrant's absence.

12. The Panel had regard to the guidance given in the HCPTS Practice Note “Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant", dated 22 March 2017, and to the decision of the House of Lords in R v Jones [2002] UKHL 5. It bore in mind that the discretion to proceed in the absence of the Registrant should be exercised with great care.

13. It looked at the nature and circumstances of the Registrant's absence and in particular whether her absence was deliberate and voluntary so that it amounted to a waiver of her right to appear. The Panel had regard to the record of the telephone conversation between the Registrant and an HCPC employee (SC) on 2 March 2017, during which she was reminded of her obligation to keep an up-to-date address to which the HCPC could send communications and during which it was made clear that disciplinary proceedings were continuing against her.

14. It also considered whether an adjournment was likely to result in the Registrant attending at a later date, the likely length of any such adjournment and whether there was any indication that the Registrant wished to be represented. The Panel was satisfied that there is no evidence that an adjournment would secure the Registrant’s attendance or that she would wish to be represented at any hearing. The Panel accepted that the Registrant had been told on the telephone on 2 March 2017 that she could be represented at a hearing and there was no evidence that she had arranged representation. The Registrant also made it clear that she was not engaging in the process and therefore was unlikely to attend on another date.

15. The Panel accepted that a registrant will inevitably suffer prejudice by not being able to present his/her case, albeit that, in this case, the prejudice would be to an extent lessened by the Panel having a copy of the Registrant’s written representations, date-stamped 26 July 2016. Nevertheless, the Panel balanced that against the public interest in allowing the HCPC to fulfil its duty to protect the public. The Panel bore in mind the guidance given by the Court of Appeal in Adeogba: “It would run entirely counter to the protection, promotion and maintenance of the health and safety of the public if a practitioner could effectively frustrate the process and challenge a refusal to adjourn when that practitioner had deliberately failed to engage in the process.”

16. In this case the HCPC had secured the attendance of two witnesses who were already required to recall events that occurred nearly 2 years ago. Any further delay would inevitably have a detrimental effect upon them and the quality of their evidence.

17. There is no material before the Panel indicating that the Registrant sought an adjournment and in her last contact with the HCPC she indicated that she was anxious for the proceedings to be resolved as quickly as possible.

18. In all the circumstances, the Panel was satisfied that it should exercise its discretion to proceed in the absence of the Registrant. All the evidence pointed to the Registrant having disengaged from the regulatory process and voluntarily absented herself while there was a strong public interest in proceeding with the case so that it will be concluded within a reasonable time.

Amendment of the Allegation

19. The Panel then heard an application by Mr Millin to amend the Allegation in the terms set out in the body of this determination. He submitted that the HCPC had served Notice on the Registrant of its intention to amend the Allegation on 19 April 2017. He submitted that the proposed amendments did not materially alter the Allegation that the Registrant faced.

Whilst registered as a Social Worker and employed as a Locum Social Worker by Plymouth City Council:

1. In relation to Child A, you:

a) recorded that you completed a single assessment and stated that you had seen and spoken interacted with Child A on 19 January 2016 when in fact the child had not been present;

b) copied (or “grabbed”) sections of the Single Assessment from the previous report prepared in or around October 2015;

c) did not update the Single Assessment to reflect Child A's current situation.

2. In relation to Child B, recorded that completed a single assessment and stated that you had visited Child B at home on 03 February 2016 when in fact Child B had not been visited.

3. Your actions in relation to particulars 1 and/or 2 were dishonest.

4. The matters set out at particulars 1-3 constitutes misconduct.

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

20. The Panel heard the advice of the Legal Assessor, which it accepted. The Panel applied the test of whether the amendment was in the interests of justice and could be made without prejudice to the Registrant. It decided it could, because the amendment better reflected the evidence and did not change the case which the Registrant had to meet. In addition, the HCPC had taken all reasonable steps to give the Registrant notice of its proposed application to amend the Allegation.

Background

21. Between 6 July 2015 and 23 February 2016, the Registrant was employed as an agency Social Worker via the Social Care Recruitment Agency (Network Health Care) in the referral service of the Plymouth City Council (the Council) Children Young People and Family Services. During the period covered by the Allegation, in January and February 2016 the Registrant was working in the Initial Response Team in the Referral and Assessment Service (the Service). Her responsibility was to make the initial visit to children in families where concerns had been raised. Some of these families were already known to the department.

22. One of her responsibilities was to make contact with the children in the family who may be at risk and complete a report known as ‘the Single Assessment’. In order to complete a Single Assessment, a Social Worker had to speak to the child at risk and ascertain his or her views and concerns.

23. The allegation arises from the Registrant’s contact with and assessment of two children between 19 January and 3 February 2016.

24. The first, known as Child A, was 5 years old and one of four children in a family that had had previous involvement with the Service. The children were referred to the department on 21 December 2015, because the mother of Child A had reported to her Housing Officer concerns about the children having contact with their father. There was a previous history of domestic violence.

25. On 19 January 2016 the Registrant visited Child A’s family and spoke with his mother. She subsequently completed a Single Assessment in which she claimed to have spoken to Child A, when in fact Child A was not present on that occasion.

26. The second child, known as Child B, was referred to the department because of concerns raised by a midwife who had seen Child B’s father apparently behaving aggressively at the delivery of a new baby. This family was also known to the department because of a history of domestic abuse.

27. On 22 February 2016, the Registrant submitted to her Line Manager, SM, for authorisation a Single Assessment of Child B which indicated that she had seen Child B on 3 February 2016.

Witnesses and Evidence

28. The HCPC relied upon the evidence of the following three witnesses:

29. The first was SM, who was at the relevant time a Manager in the Referral and Assessment Service at the Council and the Registrant’s Line Manager. The Panel found her to be a straightforward and honest witness who did her best to assist the Panel. Her recollection of matters not recorded in her statement was limited, something she readily accepted when questioned.

30. In her written and oral evidence she set out the Registrant’s position in the Service, her involvement with Child A and Child B, and circumstances in which she became aware that the Registrant had not seen either Child A or Child B as she had claimed in her Single Assessment reports.

31. At a supervision meeting on 26 January 2016, the Registrant told SM that she had seen all four children of Family A at home on 19 January 2016. Child A’s mother had subsequently telephoned the team on 15 February 2016 and told SM that when the Registrant had visited her at home on 19 January 2016, Child A had not been present, so that the Registrant had agreed to arrange a further visit to see Child A. At a meeting with SM and RY, the Service Manager, on 22 February 2016, the Registrant said that she had seen a small male child whom she believed was Child A, but now thought that this an error.

32. In respect of Child B, SM told the Panel that on 22 February 2016 she had telephoned Child B’s mother, who told her that the Registrant had not visited Child B at all. At the meeting with the Registrant and RY on 22 February 2016, the Registrant initially said that she had seen Child B on 3 February 2016 and then later said that she had only seen Child B getting into her Grandmother’s car, but had not spoken to her.

33. SM also told the Panel that she was aware that the Registrant was struggling with personal difficulties and did her best to help her by allowing her to write up the reports away from the office.

34. The second witness was RY, who was at the time the Service Manager of the Service and SM’s Line Manager. The Panel also found him to be a reliable and helpful witness who did his best to recall the events surrounding the allegation.

35. He described the meeting of 22 February 2016 and said that he had given the Registrant an opportunity to explain her ‘errors’ in writing but she had never submitted a report to him, and the Agency was informed the next day that the Council would not be renewing the Registrant’s employment (she was on a week’s notice).

36. RY was also aware that the Registrant was experiencing difficulties at work and had personal problems. However, he was not aware of any action plan being put in place, which would have happened if the Registrant had indicated that she was overwhelmed.

37. He could not tell the Panel when the Registrant had qualified, but he knew her to be an experienced Social Worker who was likely to have had previous experience of the computerised record-keeping system used in the Service for recording notes, including the Single Assessment.

38. The Panel also read the statement of JS, who was the Branch Manager at Network Health Care. She had never met the Registrant but she was able to confirm her employment status and the date she left the Service, on 23 February 2016. She also supplied an email written by the Registrant on 14 March setting out her concerns about the size of her caseload and a lack of support at work.

39. The Panel also read an eight page response sent by the Registrant to Kingsley Napley, date-stamped July 2016, in which she set out the circumstances in which she dealt with Child A and Child B and the background of personal difficulties which had distracted and then overwhelmed her. 

40. She described rushing her paperwork and said that she had resorted to cutting and pasting in order to escape from the “unbearable environment”. She accepted that she had submitted “false reports stating that I had seen the child” but explained this as an error of proof reading under significant stress.

41. The Panel also considered the documents contained in the HCPC exhibits bundle.

42. The Panel heard the submissions of Mr Millin and the advice of the Legal Assessor, which is embodied in the decision set out below. In particular, the Panel bore in mind throughout that the burden of proving the Allegation rests upon the HCPC and that they should draw no adverse inference from the Registrant not attending the hearing.

Decision on Facts

Particular 1(a) – Proved

43. The Panel found this particular proved.

44. The Panel had regard to the evidence set out above and also the second page of the Single Assessment set out at page 22 of the exhibits bundle. This showed that the Registrant recorded, “Child A seen at home with mum. He is a lively and sociable child who has good relationships with his mum and elder siblings”.

45. The Panel was satisfied that a Social Worker looking at that record would understand that the Registrant had spoken to Child A. At her meeting with SM, and in her written submission to Kingsley Napley, the Registrant admitted that she did not speak to Child A but only saw a child she assumed to be Child A and did not speak to him.

Particular 1(b) – Proved

46. The Panel found this particular proved.

47. The Panel compared a number of passages in the Single Assessment set out between pages 22 and 39 of the exhibits bundle with passages set out in the record of the assessment carried out on 1 October 2015 and set out between pages 75 and 89 of the exhibits bundle. It found that a number of passages had been copied ‘word for word’. At page 6 of her representations to Kingsley Napley, the Registrant accepted that “I made mistakes, and began to copy and paste and rush my written work in order to leave an unbearable environment”. In those circumstances, the Panel was satisfied that the Registrant copied sections of the 1 October assessment.

Particular 1(c) – Not Proved

48. The Panel found this particular not proved.

49. The Panel had regard to the submission of Mr Millin that this particular of the Allegation related to the first copy of the Single Assessment carried out on 19 January 2016.

50. The Panel considered a number of passages which had been partly copied from the October Assessment and then updated to deal with the circumstances as they were on 9 January 2016. The Panel had particular regard to the following passages:

• Health: The October Assessment referred to dental decay, an appointment in June 2015 and a persistent cough. All of these had been removed from the Registrant’s record to indicate that they were no longer current.

• Education: the Assessment of 1 October 2015 recorded that Child A’s mother did not give consent for the school to be contacted and threatened to withdraw Child A if the Social Worker contacted the school. The Registrant recorded that Child A’s mother was working well with the Family Support Worker and recognised the importance of Child A’s education.

• Parenting Capacity: The Registrant’s record did not repeat the concerns about Child A’s dental health recorded in the October Assessment and recorded that Child A’s mother was now working with the PDAS.

• The analysis section: the 1 October Assessment referred to Child A’s maternal aunt and her problematic heroin use. The Registrant’s record specifically listed this as a ‘previous concern’ and updated the position to say that Child A’s mother had the capacity to continue her caring role.

Particular 2 – Proved

51. The Panel found this particular proved.

52. The Panel had regard to the Registrant’s record of visiting Child B on 3 February 2016. The Panel saw that she had not merely selected the answer ‘yes’ from what SM described as a “drop-down box” on the electronic form, but had also recorded the following: “Child B seen at home with mum. Presentation good, enjoying school, likes spending time with daddy. Child B was seen to be a confident and sociable child who enjoyed caring for her baby brother. Her bedroom is clean and tidy and she has lots of personal belongings. Child B enjoys art and dance and her favourite colour is pink. She states feels safe at home and speaks highly of her family. No further concerns”.

53. In the same Assessment she indicated that she had seen Child B on 29 December 2015, 14 January 2016 and 3 February 2016.

54. The Panel was satisfied that another Social Worker reading the entries referred to above would conclude that the Registrant had seen and spoken to Child B and not merely seen her leaving her home with her Grandmother, as she later admitted.

Particular 3 – Proved (in relation to particulars 1(a) and 2)

55. The Panel found that the Registrant’s actions in particulars 1(a) and 2 were dishonest but did not find her actions at Particular 1(b) to be dishonest.

56. In considering whether the Registrant’s actions were dishonest, the Panel considered her actions under particulars 1(a) and 2 together.

57. In both cases, it first asked itself what had the Registrant done. In both cases it was satisfied that she had completed records which indicated that she had seen and spoken to a child when she had not.

58. The Panel then considered what the Registrant had known or believed when she completed those reports. It was satisfied on all the evidence that the Registrant knew the following things:

a) That she had not visited and spoken to either child;

b) That the report she had completed gave the clear impression that she had;

c) That she was completing a formal record that would be used and relied upon by her colleagues.

59. The Panel then considered whether an honest and decent person would regard the Registrant’s conduct as dishonest, having regard to not only what she did but also what she knew and understood at the time.

60. The Panel was satisfied that such a person would conclude that the Registrant was deliberately creating what she knew to be a false and misleading record and would find that conduct to be dishonest.

61. With regard to Particular 1(b), the Panel was satisfied that the copying of historical matters from one report to another was not dishonest. It was satisfied that an honest and decent person aware of social work practice would regard it as acceptable to transfer such matters from one report to another. There was no evidence that the Registrant’s conduct in this regard was misleading or intended to mislead.

Decision on Grounds

62. The Panel next considered whether the Registrant’s actions as found proved in particulars 1(a), 1(b), 2 and 3 amounted to misconduct. The Panel heard the submissions of Mr Millin, but was aware that there is no burden of proof at this stage and this is a matter for its professional judgement. In reaching its decision, the Panel also considered the advice of the Legal Assessor.

63. The Panel decided that the matters proved at Particular 1(b) do not amount to misconduct for the same reasons that it made no finding of dishonesty in respect of that conduct. The Panel was satisfied that the copying of historical matters from one assessment to another, which the Registrant carried out in this case, fell within acceptable social work practice.

64. The Panel found the Particulars proved at 1(a), 2 and 3 amounted to misconduct. 65. The Panel had regard to the HCPC “Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics” (2012 edition) and in particular standards 1, 7, 10, and 13.

• Standard 1 provides that the Registrant must act in the best interests of service users.

• Standard 7 provides that the Registrant must communicate properly and effectively with service users and other practitioners.

• Standard 10 provides that the Registrant must keep accurate records

• Standard 13 provides that the Registrant must behave with honesty and integrity and make sure that his or her behaviour does not damage the public’s confidence in the practitioner or the profession.

66. The Panel also had regard to the HCPC “Standards of Proficiency for Social Workers in England” (2012 edition) and in particular paragraphs 2.8 (the importance of respect and honesty), 3.1 (the need to maintain high standards of personal and professional conduct), 9.1 (the need to build and sustain professional relationships) and 10.1 (the need to maintain accurate records).

67. The Panel was satisfied that the matters set out in particulars 1(a) and 2 amounted to misconduct. Even without a finding of dishonesty, recording meetings with a child that did not happen is conduct that falls significantly below that expected of a Social Worker. The Panel heard evidence of the importance of accurate and reliable records to the proper conduct of a Social Work team and so for the protection of the children for whom the members of the team are responsible.

68. The Panel was satisfied that the finding in Particular 3 – the finding of dishonesty – amounts to misconduct. The Registrant falsified records on two occasions in relation to two service users. This represented a significant breach of the trust placed in her by her colleagues. It was made more serious by being related to the records of visits which relate to the protection of vulnerable children.

69. The Panel was satisfied that a fellow Social Worker would find this conduct deplorable.

Decision on Impairment

70. The Panel next considered whether the Registrant’s current fitness to practise is impaired by reason of misconduct. The Panel heard submissions from Mr Millin on behalf of the HCPC and the advice of the Legal Assessor, which it accepted. The Panel has also had regard to the HCPTS Practice Note “Finding that Fitness to Practise is ‘Impaired’”.

71. The Panel was aware that impairment is a question for its own judgement. In reaching its decision, the Panel considered both the ‘personal’ component and the ‘public component’ of fitness to practise, which includes the need to protect service users, maintain confidence in the profession and the regulatory process and uphold proper standards of conduct and behaviour.

72. In deciding whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired, the Panel had regard to the following examples given by Dame Janet Smith in the “Fifth Shipman Report” and subsequently adopted by the High Court:

• Does the Registrant present a risk to patients;

• Has the Registrant brought the profession into disrepute;

• Has the Registrant breached one of the fundamental tenets of the profession;

• Is it the case that the Registrant’s integrity cannot be relied upon.

73. The Panel is satisfied that the Registrant’s conduct, in completing false records of visits to Child A and Child B, put vulnerable service users at risk. If other members of a Social Worker’s team read that a child had been seen when he/she had not, that child risks losing the opportunity to make his or her views known.

74. The Panel is satisfied that producing false records in a way that is deliberate and dishonest can bring the profession into disrepute.

75. The Panel is also satisfied that by being dishonest, the Registrant has breached a fundamental tenet of the profession, namely the requirement to demonstrate honesty and integrity and, in the same way, has made it impossible to rely upon her integrity.

76. The Panel accepted that the Registrant’s misconduct occurred during a period of extreme personal stress. There was no material before it to indicate that the Registrant has been dishonest in any other circumstances.

77. The Panel also considered the Registrant’s written submissions, in which she said that she understood the importance of proper record keeping. Nevertheless, the Registrant fell short of demonstrating that she understood why it was important or the effect her actions could have.

78. The Panel acknowledged that dishonesty is not easy to remediate. Nevertheless, in the circumstances of this case, the Panel accepted that there may be ways in which it could be. However, there is no evidence before the Panel that the Registrant has begun that process and in her last communication, of 2 March 2017, she told the HCPC that she was not ready to deal with her future.

79. The Panel is satisfied that, until the Registrant gains full insight into her dishonest acts and begins the process of remediation, there is a continuing risk that she would repeat this behaviour if faced with stressful circumstances.

80. The Panel also considered the impact of the Registrant’s misconduct on public confidence in the profession. The Panel is satisfied that the confidence of reasonable members of the public in the profession and its regulatory process would be undermined if no finding of impairment were made in respect of a registrant who had falsified records. It is important that members of the public and other practitioners can trust the word of a Social Worker and can be confident that the records upon which the proper functioning of a Social Work team depend have been made honestly and accurately.

81. The Panel also considered its duty to uphold standards of conduct and integrity in the profession and is satisfied that that it would be failing in its duty to uphold standards if it made no finding of impairment in the case of the Registrant, who had departed from her proper standards of care to vulnerable children and sought to conceal her failures by falsifying records.

82. Accordingly, the Panel is satisfied that the Registrant’s current fitness to practise is impaired by reason of misconduct.

Decision on Sanction

83. Having concluded that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired, the Panel went on to consider if a sanction is necessary and, if so, what would be the proportionate and sufficient sanction.

84. The Panel heard the submissions of Mr Millin on behalf of the HCPC, in which he drew evidence of the aggravating and mitigating factors to the Panel’s attention.

85. He also drew the Panel’s attention to the decision of the High Court in Parkinson v Nursing and Midwifery Council [2010] EWHC 1898. He reminded the Panel that the judgment of Mitting J said that “a nurse who has acted dishonestly, who does not attend before the Panel either personally or by solicitor or counsel to demonstrate remorse, a realisation that the conduct criticised was dishonest, and an undertaking that there will be no repetition, effectively forfeits the small chance of persuading the Panel to adopt a lenient or merciful outcome and to suspend for a period, rather than to direct erasure”.

86. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. It had regard to the HCPC “Indicative Sanctions Policy”, dated 22 March 2017, and considered the sanctions in ascending order of severity. The Panel was aware that the purpose of a sanction is not to be punitive, but to protect the public and to safeguard the wider public interest, which includes upholding standards within the profession, together with maintaining public confidence in the profession and its regulatory process.

87. The Panel identified the following mitigating factors in this case:

• There are no other employment or regulatory concerns recorded against the Registrant as far as the Panel is aware;

• The misconduct was committed over a relatively short period;

• The Registrant was coping with stressful circumstances in her personal life;

• The Registrant faced a heavy caseload at work, which RY accepted;

• The Registrant has engaged to a limited extent in the disciplinary process to demonstrate that she has developed some limited insight.

88. The Panel considered that the following were aggravating factors:

• The Registrant’s misconduct involved two instances of dishonesty;

• Two vulnerable children were put at risk of harm;

• The Registrant has not engaged in the Regulatory process sufficiently to provide the Panel with evidence of significant insight or remediation.

89. The Panel does not consider the options of taking no further action or mediation to be either appropriate or proportionate in the circumstances of this case. Neither sanction would protect service users, address the identified risks, (including the risk of recurrence), or address the wider public interest because the misconduct is too serious.

90. The Panel does not consider that a Caution Order meets the criteria as set out in paragraph 28 of the “Indicative Sanctions Policy”, which provides:

“28. A caution order is an appropriate sanction for cases, where the lapse is isolated, limited or relatively minor in nature, there is a low risk of recurrence, the registrant has shown insight and taken appropriate remedial action. A caution order should also be considered in cases where the nature of the allegation means that meaningful practice restrictions cannot be imposed but where the registrant has shown insight, the conduct concerned is out of character, the risk of repetition is low and thus suspension from practice would be disproportionate. A caution order is unlikely to be appropriate in cases where the registrant lacks insight.”

This is because the Panel has found that the Registrant’s misconduct is not minor; nor is there any evidence that the Registrant has developed sufficient insight or taken appropriate remedial action to reassure the Panel that the risk of repetition is low.

91. The Panel is also satisfied that the public interest aspect of this case, which relates to the important area of honest and accurate record-keeping, is too serious for a Caution Order.

92. The Panel next considered a Conditions of Practice Order. The Panel took account of paragraph 31 of the “Indicative Sanctions Policy”, which provides:

“31. Conditions of Practice Orders must be limited to a maximum of three years and should be remedial or rehabilitative in nature. Before imposing conditions a Panel should be satisfied that:

• the issues which the conditions seek to address are capable of correction;

• there is no persistent or general failure which would prevent the registrant from doing so;

• appropriate, realistic and verifiable conditions can be formulated;

• the registrant can be expected to comply with them; and

• a reviewing Panel will be able to determine whether those conditions have or are being met.”

93. The Panel is satisfied that those conditions are not met in this case.

94. The Panel is aware that it is sometimes possible to impose appropriate conditions in cases of misconduct such as this. However, in this case it is not possible to formulate appropriate conditions because the Panel knows nothing of the Registrant’s current circumstances. Even if conditions could be formulated, there is no material before the Panel from which it could conclude that the Registrant would comply with them. On the contrary, the contents of the Registrant’s last communication with the HCPC indicated that she may still not be ready to return to work even with conditions.

95. The Panel next considered whether a Suspension Order would be an appropriate and proportionate sanction.

96. The Panel considered paragraphs 39 and 41 of “Indicative Sanctions Policy”, which provide as follows:

“39. Suspension should be considered where the Panel considers that a caution or conditions of practice would provide insufficient public protection or where the allegation is of a serious nature but unlikely to be repeated and, thus, striking off is not merited.

41. If the evidence suggests that the registrant will be unable to resolve or remedy his or her failings then striking off may be the more appropriate option. However, where there are no psychological or other difficulties preventing the registrant from understanding and seeking to remedy the failings then suspension may be appropriate."

97. The Panel has approached these provisions with care. On the one hand, there is no direct evidence before the Panel that the Registrant’s misconduct is “unlikely to be repeated”; nor, on the other hand, is there any suggestion, nor evidence, of “psychological or other difficulties preventing the registrant from understanding and seeking to remedy the failings”.

98. After balancing these considerations, the Panel decided that it could properly protect the public by imposing a Suspension Order because the Registrant’s failings were capable of being remediated and it was right to give her an opportunity to do so whilst at the same time protecting the public.

99. The Panel considered whether it was right to come to that conclusion in circumstances where the Registrant had not attended to give evidence to the Panel.

100. The Panel decided that it was because it was safe to rely, at least to a limited extent, upon the representations that the Registrant had made in writing and by telephone contact with the HCPTS.

101. Her account of acute personal difficulties affecting her work was borne out by the evidence of her Line Manager, SM. The information which the Registrant had given to the HCPC in March 2017 was consistent with her account of her personal situation.

102. Having come to the conclusion that the Registrant’s misconduct occurred in exceptional circumstances, the Panel was satisfied that the risk of repetition is capable of being reduced if the Registrant can adopt coping strategies that would enable her to practice her profession safely. The Panel was also satisfied that the Registrant’s written representations and subsequent telephone communication demonstrated sufficient insight to reassure the Panel that she could develop further insight and engage in remediation.

103. The Panel also had regard to Mr Millin’s submissions and the case of Parkinson. The Panel did not take that decision to mean that a Striking Off Order was mandatory in cases of dishonesty where the Registrant does not attend. It understood the judgment to be a firm reminder that it should ensure that there were good and reliable grounds for taking the course it chose and that it should not rely upon untested assertions from the Registrant.

104. In this case, the Panel was satisfied that it has treated the Registrant’s submissions with proper caution and acted upon them only to the extent that they are supported by or consistent with other evidence.

105. In order to be satisfied that it had imposed a sufficiently restrictive sanction to protect the public, the Panel considered whether a Striking Off Order was necessary in this case. It had particular regard to paragraphs 47 to 49 of the “Indicative Sanctions Policy”, which provide:

“47. Striking off is a sanction of last resort for serious, deliberate or reckless acts involving abuse of trust such as sexual abuse, dishonesty or persistent failure. 48. Striking off should be used where there is no other way to protect the public, for example, where there is a lack of insight, continuing problems or denial. A registrant’s inability or unwillingness to resolve matters will suggest that a lower sanction may not be appropriate.

49. Striking off may also be appropriate where the nature and gravity of the allegation are such that any lesser sanction would lack deterrent effect or undermine confidence in the profession concerned or the regulatory process. Where striking off is used to address these wider public protection issues, Panels should provide clear reasons for doing so. Those reasons must explain why striking off is appropriate and not merely repeat that it is being done to deter others or maintain public confidence.”

106. In all the circumstances, the Panel is satisfied that it would not be appropriate to impose a sanction of “last resort” at this time without giving the Registrant the opportunity to engage and remediate failings which appear capable of remediation, for the reasons set out above.

107. In addition, the public will be protected during any period of suspension. The Panel is satisfied that public confidence would be maintained by a period of suspension and that the Panel could uphold proper standards in the profession by reviewing the Order before its expiry and ensuring that the Registrant does not return to work until it is safe for her to do so.

108. The Panel has considered whether the Registrant’s conduct is fundamentally incompatible with continued registration. The Panel has concluded that the Registrant’s misconduct, although serious, falls short of being fundamentally incompatible with her continued registration because it is not the most serious example of dishonesty, was not committed for personal gain, and was committed during a relatively short period and in exceptional circumstances.

109. Accordingly, the Panel has decided to impose a Suspension Order for a period of 6 months.

110. The Panel has decided on this period because it is satisfied that this period is sufficient to maintain public confidence by demonstrating that the Panel has recognised the seriousness of this case. It would give the Registrant the opportunity to build upon the insight she has developed and to address the steps that she would need to take to remediate her misconduct.

111. The Suspension Order will be reviewed before its expiry. At the review hearing, the reviewing panel is likely to be assisted by:

• The Registrant’s attendance at the review hearing;

• A reflective piece demonstrating that the Registrant has understood why her conduct was wrong, its impact on service users and colleagues and demonstrating how she would deal with a stressful personal and professional situation in the future;

• An account of her hopes for working as a Social Worker again;

• Evidence of any paid or unpaid work since this hearing;

• Character references or testimonials.

Order

That the Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Mrs Julie Newton for a period of 6 months from the date this Order comes into effect.

Notes

This Order will be reviewed again before its expiry.

Hearing history

History of Hearings for Mrs Julie Newton

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
22/11/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended