Mrs Serena Odette Newnes

: Social worker

: SW55943

: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing:10:00 27/11/2017 End: 17:00 01/12/2017

: Hallmark Hotel Gloucester, Matson Lane, Robinswood Hill, Gloucester, Gloucestershire, GL4 6EA

: Conduct and Competence Committee
: Suspended

Allegation

Whilst employed as a social worker with Gloucestershire County Council, you:

1. Attended work whilst under the influence of alcohol on various dates, including:

a) Friday 15 May 2015;

b) At a fact finding meeting held on Thursday 23 July 2015.

2. Behaved inappropriately and/or erratically in front of colleagues on various occasions, including:

a) On or around 1 April 2015, lifting your skirt in front of colleagues to show where you had an injection on your 'backside';

b) On or around 31 March and 1 April 2015, during Care Act Training, challenging and/or correcting the trainer and/or disrupting the training by repeatedly asking the same questions;

c) Presented a colleague with a bag which appeared to contain hair samples and/or a bottle for a urine sample.

3. Behaved and/or spoke inappropriately about and/or in front of service users on various occasions including:

a) Discussing 'Fifty Shades of Grey' with a service user;

b) Referring to the service user as 'Mrs Fifty Shades of Grey', or words to that effect, to work colleagues

4. You accepted a caution for battery on 11 May 2015.

5. You did not promptly declare the caution referred to in paragraph 4 to:

a) Your employer;

b) The Health and care Professions council.

6. The matters set out in paragraphs 1 - 3 and 5 constitute misconduct and/or lack of Competence.

7. By reason of your misconduct and/or lack of competence at paragraph 6 your fitness to practise is impaired.

8. By reason of your caution at paragraph 4 your fitness to practise is impaired.

Finding

Preliminary Matters

Proof of Service

1. The Panel was provided with a signed certificate as proof that the Notice of Hearing had been posted on 12 September 2017 by first class post, to the address shown for the Registrant on the HCPC Register. The Notice of Hearing confirmed that the hearing would be taking place at this venue.

2. The Panel was satisfied that Notice had been properly served in accordance with Rule 3 (Proof of Service) and Rule 6 (date, time and venue) of the Conduct and Competence Committee Rules 2003 (as amended).

Proceeding in Absence

3. Having determined that service of the Notice of Hearing had been properly effected, the Panel went on to consider whether to proceed in the Registrant’s absence. Mr Millin, on behalf of the HCPC, applied to hear the matter in the Registrant’s absence. He confirmed that there had been no communication from the Registrant for the last ten months. There was no application to adjourn the hearing.

4. The Panel was advised by the Legal Assessor and followed that advice. The Panel also took into account the guidance as set out in the HCPTS Practice Note “Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant”.

5. There has been no application to adjourn and no indication from the Registrant that she would attend on any future date, and therefore adjourning and re-listing this hearing would serve no useful purpose. This is a substantive hearing and there is a public interest in ensuring that it is considered expeditiously.

6. The Panel was satisfied that it was fair and reasonable to conclude that the Registrant’s absence is deliberate and demonstrates a voluntary waiver of her right to be present. The Panel determined that it was in the public interest to proceed in the Registrant’s absence.

Application to amend the allegation

7. Mr Millin then applied to amend the allegation by deleting particulars 3(a) and 3(b) and renumbering particulars 3(c) and 3(d), using the word “accepted” instead of “received” in particular 4, rewording particular 5 to read “you did not promptly declare”, and renumbering the remaining particulars in the manner shown within the letter from the HCPC to the Registrant notifying her of the amendments.

Whilst employed as a social worker with Gloucestershire County Council, you:

1. Attended work whilst under the influence of alcohol on various dates, including:

a) Friday 15 May 2015;

b) At a fact finding meeting held on Thursday 23 July 2015.

2. Behaved inappropriately and/or erratically in front of colleagues on various occasions, including:

a) On or around 1 April 2015, lifting your skirt in front of colleagues to show where you had an injection on your ‘backside’;

b) On or around 31 March and 1 April 2015, during Care Act Training, challenging and/or correcting the trainer and/or disrupting the training by repeatedly asking the same questions;

c) Presented a colleague with a bag which appeared to contain hair samples and/or a bottle for a urine sample.

3. Behaved and/or spoke inappropriately about and/or in front of service users on various occasions including:

a) Crying in front of a service user;

b) Providing a service user with an unrealistic timescale for completion of an assessment and additional support;

c) a) Discussing ‘Fifty Shades of Graey’ with a service user;

d) b) Referring to the service user as ‘Mrs Fifty Shades of Grey’, or words to that effect, to work colleagues

4. You Received accepted a caution for battery on 11 May 2015.

5. which yYou did not promptly declare the caution referred to in paragraph 4 to:

a) Your employer;

b) The Health and care Professions council.

65. The matters set out in paragraphs 1 - 3 and 5 constitute misconduct and/or lack of Competence.

76. By reason of your misconduct and/or lack of competence at paragraph 6 your fitness to practise is impaired.

87. By reason of your caution at paragraph 4 your fitness to practise is impaired.

8. Mr Millin submitted that no injustice would be caused by those amendments. The Registrant had been informed about the proposed amendments in a letter dated 22 September 2017. There was no objection to the proposed amendments from the Registrant. The Legal Assessor advised that the allegation could be amended provided that the Panel was satisfied that no injustice was thereby caused. The Panel allowed the application for amendment of all of the particulars asked for, considering that there was no injustice caused and accepting that the amendments helped to ensure clarity in the allegation but did not change the nature of it or make it more serious for the Registrant.

Proceeding in private

9. The final preliminary matter related to whether the hearing should proceed in private. It was clear that some of the matters that would be dealt with in the hearing might relate to the health of the Registrant. There was no specific application to hear such matters in private. The Panel determined that where matters were heard which related solely to the health of the Registrant, such matters should be heard in private in order to preserve the Registrant’s private life.

Background

10. The Registrant was employed as a Grade 1 Social Worker by Gloucestershire County Council (‘the Council’). The Registrant commenced employment with the Council on 26 June 2003. On 17 September 2012, the Registrant became a Team Manager in the Stroud office and remained in this role until an internal investigation began around February 2015 concerning the Registrant’s sickness absences. As a result, the Registrant stepped down from the Team Manager position on the grounds of capability and returned to the Gloucester Team as a Grade 1 Social Worker.

11. On 15 May 2015, the Registrant was noted by PB (Team Manager) to be agitated and behaving differently. PB noticed a smell of alcohol on the Registrant. PB spoke with SD (Interim Referral Centre Manager) and they decided to raise the concerns with the Registrant’s line manager, MS (Community Care Manager). They subsequently spoke to the Registrant about her general well-being and then asked her to go home. Following this, MS decided to hold an investigation into the Registrant’s conduct. A number of staff raised concerns about the Registrant’s behaviour and the fact that she smelt of alcohol on a number of occasions. A disciplinary hearing was held on 2 February 2016. A final decision was notified to the Registrant on 12 February 2016 and the matter was referred to the HCPC.

12. During the course of the investigation, it became apparent as a result of a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check that the Registrant had been cautioned on 11 May 2015 for an offence of Battery on 10 May 2015. She did not inform her employers or the HCPC about the caution.

Decision on Facts

13. The Panel bore in mind the burden and standard of proof, which was the civil standard, and considered each particular separately.

14. The Panel first considered the witnesses who had given evidence. The HCPC called 5 witnesses:

• MS, Community Care Manager

• LN, Administration Team Leader

• PB, Team Manager

• MC, Interim Team Manager

• ST, Referrals Officer

It also considered the written statements of AM (Legal Assistant at Kingsley Napley) and CA (HCPC Case Manager). The Panel examined all of the evidence carefully, including all of the exhibits, which included the statements and explanations made by the Registrant in the course of the investigation by the Council.

15. MS was a credible, open and cogent witness. Her evidence was largely consistent with her statement. Much of her evidence was hearsay based on what others had told her. She gave direct evidence regarding: the meeting on 23 July 2015; overhearing the Registrant on the telephone in a conversation regarding ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’; and the Council’s policy regarding DBS disclosures. She gave general testimony regarding her perspective of the Registrant’s behaviour in and around the office. She accepted that the Council’s policy did not refer to cautions and, as such, could be misunderstood by staff. Her evidence in relation to particulars 1(a), 2(a), 2(b), 2(c) and elements of 3(a) was hearsay and the Panel therefore looked for corroboration. She gave no oral evidence regarding these matters. On questioning, she accepted she had no direct evidence on particular 2(c). She gave evidence of the Registrant’s inappropriate behaviour.

16. LN was a credible, open and cogent witness. Her evidence was consistent with her statement. She had known the Registrant since 2004 and saw her frequently, often on a daily basis. She gave direct evidence of hearing the Registrant referring to a service user as “Mrs Fifty Shades of Grey”. She explained that she found this unacceptable. She gave direct evidence regarding the meeting on 23 July 2015. She said that she could smell alcohol in the meeting room but not on the Registrant’s breath, and she could not say that she found the Registrant to be under the influence of alcohol. She said that the Registrant was slightly slurring her words but she could not specifically attribute this to alcohol. She said that she has had no cause in the past to have concerns about the Registrant presenting at work under the influence of alcohol.

17. PB was a credible, open and cogent witness. She gave a balanced view and stated that the Registrant was previously an excellent Social Worker who was very knowledgeable and experienced. She commented on the change in the Registrant’s behaviour from when she first knew her. She gave evidence of the Registrant’s inappropriate behaviour. She gave evidence of smelling alcohol on the Registrant on 15 May 2017. She stated that she reported this to SD and MS. She spoke to the Registrant, in the company of SD, about her concerns regarding use of alcohol.

18. MC was a credible, considered and cogent witness. He stated that he smelt alcohol coming from the Registrant on 15 May 2015. He said he did not have the impression that the Registrant was drunk. He gave evidence of his concerns about the Registrant’s inappropriate behaviour. He stated that his only involvement in the DBS matter was to advise her on how to fill in the form. He was unaware of any caution and did not discuss this with the Registrant.

19. ST was a credible, open and cogent witness. She explained when answering questions regarding alcohol use that she had experience as a publican. She accepted that she overheard parts of a conversation between the Registrant and another colleague, ZP, regarding “bodily fluids”. She did not witness anything being presented to ZP. She stated that she smelt alcohol on the Registrant’s breath on a day she believed was 15 May 2015, but could not be sure. She gave evidence of the Registrant’s inappropriate behaviour.

20. The Panel also bore in mind the comments and statements made by the Registrant in the investigation by the Council. In general, the comments amounted to denials, but little detail was given. The Registrant maintained she had not been well and accepted that her behaviour may have been erratic, but denied there had been a problem with alcohol.

21. The Panel then considered the individual particulars.

Particular 1 (Stem)

1. Attended work whilst under the influence of alcohol on various dates…

22. The Panel carefully considered the stem of this particular. It interpreted the words “under the influence of alcohol” to mean whether the Registrant’s judgment or behaviour has been influenced by the consumption of alcohol.

23. Although the Panel read and heard evidence regarding a health condition, there was nothing from the Registrant or from any medical practitioner to support this.

24. The Panel heard both direct and hearsay evidence relating to the Registrant smelling of alcohol. The Panel also had direct and significant hearsay evidence regarding the Registrant’s inappropriate behaviour.

Particular 1(a) – Proved

1. Attended work whilst under the influence of alcohol on various dates, including:

a) Friday 15 May 2015;

25. The Panel heard direct evidence from PB regarding the Registrant’s behaviour and a smell of alcohol coming from her. PB raised her concerns with SD and the Registrant’s line manager, MS. PB and SD discussed their concerns with the Registrant. PB’s evidence was corroborated by the direct evidence of MC, who smelt a strong smell of alcohol and witnessed out-of-character behaviour from the Registrant. ST gave direct evidence of a smell of alcohol on the Registrant’s breath and her inappropriate behaviour on a date she believed was 15 May 2015. SD’s hearsay evidence in an email to MS corroborated this. The Panel found this particular proved.

Particular 1(b) – Proved

1. Attended work whilst under the influence of alcohol on various dates, including:

b) At a fact finding meeting held on Thursday 23 July 2015.

26. MS gave direct evidence of the Registrant smelling strongly of alcohol and appearing to be under its influence on 23 July 2015. She commented on the Registrant’s erratic behaviour. LN gave direct evidence of the Registrant smelling of alcohol and slurring her words. The Panel found this particular proved.

Particular 2

Particular 2(a) – Not Proved

2. Behaved inappropriately and/or erratically in front of colleagues on various occasions, including:

a) On or around 1 April 2015, lifting your skirt in front of colleagues to show where you had an injection on your 'backside';

27. The Panel could only find evidence for this particular contained in a hearsay email to MS. This was not corroborated by another hearsay email to MS, which only mentioned the Registrant’s uninhibited behaviour but did not confirm the matters alleged in the particular. The Panel found this particular not proved.

Particular 2(b) – Not Proved

2. Behaved inappropriately and/or erratically in front of colleagues on various occasions, including:

b) On or around 31 March and 1 April 2015, during Care Act Training, challenging and/or correcting the trainer and/or disrupting the training by repeatedly asking the same questions;

28. The Panel could only find evidence for this particular contained in a hearsay email to MS. This was not corroborated by another hearsay email to MS, which only mentioned the Registrant’s uninhibited behaviour but did not confirm the matters alleged in the particular. The Panel found this particular not proved.

Particular 2(c) – Not Proved

2. Behaved inappropriately and/or erratically in front of colleagues on various occasions, including:

c) Presented a colleague with a bag which appeared to contain hair samples and/or a bottle for a urine sample.

29. The Panel could only find evidence for this particular contained in the hearsay, unsigned, undated account of ZP provided for the employer’s investigation. The Panel would have wanted clarification on a number of matters from this potential witness. Although the HCPC made attempts to secure her attendance, she was not present to give evidence. There is no corroboration except for the evidence of ST, who overheard a small part of a conversation and did not see anything presented as alleged. The Panel gave no weight to ZP’s hearsay account. In view of the lack of evidence, the Panel found this particular not proved.

Particular 2 (The Stem) – Proved

2. Behaved inappropriately and/or erratically in front of colleagues on various occasions…

30. The Panel carefully considered the stem of this particular. Although it found that there was insufficient evidence to prove the individual matters alleged in particulars 2(a), 2(b) or 2(c), the Panel considered that there was ample evidence put before it both from witnesses giving their evidence in this hearing and also by way of hearsay statements contained within emails and hearsay statements. Despite the Panel finding specific particulars set out in 2(a), 2(b) and 2(c) not proved, the Panel has been provided with significant direct and hearsay evidence which supports the allegation that the Registrant behaved inappropriately and erratically in front of colleagues on various occasions from her return to work at the end of March 2015 to the time she was suspended on 18 May 2015. Her erratic behaviour was still evident when she attended a meeting on 23 July 2015. The Panel therefore found the stem of particular 2 proved.

Particular 3

Particular 3(a) – Not Proved

3. Behaved and/or spoke inappropriately about and/or in front of service users on various occasions including:

a) Discussing 'Fifty Shades of Grey' with a service user;

31. The evidence from MS was that she overheard the Registrant speaking on the telephone regarding ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. She was not clear whether this conversation was with a service user. The Registrant denied speaking with a service user in the notes of the fact-finding meeting. There was some hearsay to support the particular, but it was limited and, in the Panel’s view, insufficient. The Panel found this particular not proved.

Particular 3(b) – Proved

3. Behaved and/or spoke inappropriately about and/or in front of service users on various occasions including:

b) Referring to the service user as 'Mrs Fifty Shades of Grey', or words to that effect, to work colleagues.

32. LN gave direct evidence of the Registrant referring to a service user as “Mrs Fifty Shades of Grey”. This was corroborated by the hearsay evidence set out in the observations of A-MG (Senior Practitioner). The Panel found this particular proved.

Particular 3 (the Stem) – Proved

3. Behaved and/or spoke inappropriately about and/or in front of service users on various occasions…

33. The Panel found the stem of particular 3 proved, in that the Registrant behaved and spoke inappropriately about service users on various occasions. The Panel did not find that the Registrant had behaved or spoken in this way in front of service users.

34. This finding was in accordance with the Panel’s findings on particulars 3(a) and 3(b).

Particular 4 – Proved

4. You accepted a caution for battery on 11 May 2015.

35. On the papers before the Panel, a DBS check confirmed that the Registrant was cautioned on 11 May 2015 for an offence of battery. The Panel found this particular proved.

Particular 5

Particulars 5(a) and 5(b) – Proved

5. You did not promptly declare the caution referred to in paragraph 4 to:

a) Your employer;

b) The Health and care Professions council.

36. The Panel took account of the evidence from the employer (MS) and the HCPC. This evidence confirmed that neither were aware of the caution. The Panel concluded that the Registrant did not declare the caution at all. The Panel found both particulars proved.

Decision on Grounds

37. Having found some of the facts proved, the Panel went on to consider whether they amounted to misconduct and/or lack of competence. The Panel first considered whether the facts found proved amounted to misconduct. It accepted the definition as given in the case of Calhaem v GMC [2007] EWHC 2606 (Admin):

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

38. For a finding of misconduct, the Panel considered that it must look at each particular found proved and see whether it is serious enough to have amounted to misconduct.

Particulars 1(a) and 1(b)

39. The Panel could not conceive of any circumstances where it was acceptable to attend work under the influence of alcohol. Service users could be put at risk, as judgment could be impaired. This was clearly considered unacceptable by the Registrant’s colleagues and would be by the wider public. This was a serious falling short of the standards expected of a Social Worker or any other professional or employee. The Panel considered that this behaviour by the Registrant amounted to misconduct.

Particular 2 (The Stem)

40. The Panel considered that the matters found proved related to inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour over a number of weeks. A significant number of colleagues commented on concerns about the behaviour, which was described variously as loud, childlike, erratic, repeated questions, dancing and disruptive.

41. The behaviour was clearly considered unacceptable by the Registrant’s colleagues and would be by the wider public. It was a serious falling short of the standards expected of a Social Worker or any other professional or employee. The Panel considered that this behaviour by the Registrant amounted to misconduct.

Particular 3

42. The Panel bore in mind the evidence in this case. It is common knowledge that ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is a sexually explicit novel. By implication, use of this phrase has sexual connotations and may create a particular impression of the person referred to. It is unacceptable to refer to a service user in this way. Colleagues found this uncomfortable and unacceptable, as would service users and the wider public. It was a serious falling short of the standards expected of a social worker or any other professional or employee. The Panel considered that this behaviour by the Registrant amounted to misconduct.

Particular 5(a)

43. The Panel carefully considered the Council’s Code of Conduct for Employees. There was no specific requirement to notify the Council of a caution within that Code of Conduct. Although the Panel accepted that it may be argued that such a thing is so widely known as to be obvious to a Registrant, the Panel must only act on the evidence before it. The Panel therefore did not find that this finding amounted to misconduct. There was no duty to disclose a caution to her employer.

Particular 5(b)

44. It is an expectation that registrants inform the HCPC of any cautions or convictions. This is a fundamental tenet of the profession and is essential to maintaining confidence in the HCPC as Regulator. The Panel considered that this behaviour by the Registrant amounted to misconduct.

45. The Panel then considered whether the facts found proved amounted to lack of competence. The Panel accepted the definition given by Mr Justice Jackson in the case of R v Calhaem v GMC [2007] EWHC 2606 (Admin) (para 39) for deficient professional performance and accepted that the definition was applicable to ‘lack of competence’: "Deficient professional performance" within the meaning of 35C(2)(b) is conceptually separate both from negligence and from misconduct. It connotes a standard of professional performance which is unacceptably low and which (save in exceptional circumstances) has been demonstrated by reference to a fair sample of the doctor's work.”

46. The Panel considered that this effectively meant that, in this allegation, there would effectively need to be a finding of a pattern of behaviour in relation to all of the matters found proved in order to find that they amounted to a lack of competence.

47. The Registrant is an experienced Social Worker; all of the matters found proved related to her work at the Council. The Panel identified that, with one exception, all of the facts found proved amounted to misconduct. None of the matters, in the view of the Panel, amounted also to the ground of lack of competence on the part of a Social Worker.

Standards

48. The Registrant has fallen seriously short of the required standards expected of a reasonably competent Social Worker. In particular, the Panel concluded that the Registrant breached standards 1, 3, 4, 7 and 13 of the relevant HCPC “Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics” and standards 3, 8 and 9 of the HCPC “Standards of Proficiency for Social Workers” in England and Wales.

Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics

1 You must act in the best interests of service users

3 You must keep high standards of personal conduct

4 You must provide (to us and any other relevant regulators) any important information about your conduct and competence

7 You must communicate properly and effectively with service users and other practitioners

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

Standards of Proficiency for Social Workers

3 be able to maintain fitness to practise

8 be able to communicate effectively

9 be able to work appropriately with others

Decision on Impairment

49. Having found that the matters found proved amounted to misconduct, the Panel went on to consider whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired. It bore in mind the evidence given in this hearing, the submissions made by Mr Millin, the advice of the Legal Assessor and the HCPTS Practice Note on “Finding that Fitness to Practise is ‘Impaired’”.

50. The Panel considered the two component parts relating to impairment, the ‘personal’ component and the ‘public’ component. It first considered the ‘personal’ component, i.e. whether the conduct was remediable, whether it had been remedied and whether it was likely to be repeated.

Particular 7 (“by reason of your misconduct…”)

51. The misconduct was serious. There has been no information from the Registrant. She has not engaged with the process. There is nothing to show insight or remediation. There is a risk of repetition and, on this basis, by virtue of the misconduct found, her fitness to practise is currently impaired on the ‘personal component’.

52. The Panel then looked to the ‘public’ component of impairment. It noted the passage in the Practice Note on “Finding that Fitness to Practise is ‘Impaired’” that it is important for panels to recognise the need to address the “critically important public policy issues” identified in Cohen - to protect service users, declare and uphold proper standards of behaviour and maintain public confidence in the profession – which means that they cannot adopt a simplistic view and conclude that fitness to practise is not impaired simply on the basis that, since the allegation arose, the Registrant has corrected matters or “learned his or her lesson”.

53. The public would expect the Regulator to take action against a registrant where misconduct is found and particularly where the allegation includes being under the influence of alcohol at work, inappropriate behaviour and failing to notify the Regulator about a caution for assault (battery).

54. The Panel considered the Registrant’s responsibilities as outlined in the HCPC “Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics”. The Panel particularly noted the passage outlined in:

Personal and professional behaviour

9.1 You must make sure that your conduct justifies the public’s trust and confidence in you and your profession.

55. The Panel took this into account in deciding whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired. It also took the view that, because of the serious nature of the misconduct, public confidence in the profession and the regulatory process would be undermined if a finding of impairment were not made in this case.

56. For all of these factors, the Panel finds that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is also impaired on the basis of the ‘public component’ in this case.

Particular 8 (“by reason of your caution…”)

57. On 11 May 2015, the Registrant accepted a caution for battery. An offence of violence is serious, particularly for a Social Worker, who may be dealing with vulnerable people. The Panel has been given no information regarding the nature of this assault and no representations have been received from the Registrant. In the absence of any information or explanation, the Panel is of view that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired by reason of the caution.

Decision on Sanction

58. Having found that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired by reason of her misconduct, the Panel went on to consider the question of sanction. It heard submissions from Mr Millin. Before reaching its decision, the Panel considered the HCPC “Indicative Sanctions Policy” and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

59. In deciding what sanction, if any, to impose, the Panel has reminded itself that the purpose of sanctions is not to be punitive but to protect service users and the public interest, although a sanction may have a punitive effect. The Panel has taken into account the principle of proportionality, balancing the interests of the public with those of the Registrant.

60. There is a need to demonstrate to the public and to practitioners the importance of adhering to the fundamental requirement of keeping high standards of personal conduct by declaring and upholding proper standards of professional behaviour.

61. There is also a need to maintain public confidence in the profession and the regulatory process.

62. The Registrant accepted a caution for battery on 11 May 2015. The Panel found that it was serious and found the Registrant’s fitness to practise to be impaired as a result.

63. The Panel noted Paragraph 16 in the HCPC’s “Indicative Sanction Policy”: Sanctions and criminal convictions 16. A conviction or caution should only lead to further action being taken against a registrant by the HCPC if, as a consequence of that conviction or caution, the registrant’s fitness to practise is found to be impaired. The Panel’s role is not to punish the registrant twice for the same offence, but to protect the public and maintain high standards among registrants and public confidence in the profession concerned.

64. The Panel considered the aggravating and the mitigating factors.

65. The aggravating factors are:

• Potential harm to service users because of the alcohol use by the Registrant;

• The Registrant’s denial of alcohol use, leading to a failure to take steps to remediate it;

• The Registrant’s overall lack of insight;

• The Registrant’s overall lack of remediation.

66. The mitigating factors are:

• The Registrant is of previous good character;

• The matters found proved amounted to a course of conduct over a relatively short period of time in her career;

• The Registrant was described by witnesses as a previously excellent Social Worker;

67. The Panel considers that the risk of repetition in this matter is high. There was a pattern of behaviour over time that was linked to the use of alcohol. At the time, the Registrant denied that her use of alcohol was impacting on her practice. The Panel has no information to say that this has changed. The impact of any repetition is potentially serious, with a risk of harm to service users and to the reputation of the profession.

68. The Panel then looked at the available sanctions in graduating order of severity. The seriousness of this case meant that taking no action was not an option and mediation has not been offered, nor is it appropriate. A Caution Order, even for the maximum duration, was inadequate, as such an Order is suitable for cases that can be regarded as being slightly more serious than those for which no action or mediation is appropriate. Such an outcome would not protect members of the public or provide the required level of public reassurance.

69. The Panel then considered and excluded the imposition of a Conditions of Practice Order on the grounds that such an outcome was insufficient and unworkable based on the seriousness of this case and the lack of engagement by the Registrant. There is no information as to her current situation or employment. Conditions should be workable, verifiable and proportionate. In the absence of any current information about the Registrant, workable conditions could not be formulated. Such an Order would not adequately address the risk, the public reassurance requirements or act as a sufficient deterrent for others.

70. The Panel is of the view that the least restrictive sanction would be one that stops the Registrant from practicing. Therefore the Panel went on to consider the imposition of a Suspension Order. The maximum order of suspension that the Panel could impose is for a period of 12 months. There would be a review shortly before the end of that 12 months to assess the Registrant’s suitability to practise as a Social Worker. The lack of engagement by the Registrant and the associated lack of demonstration of insight does present a difficulty for the Panel. The Panel would have benefitted by the Registrant attending and providing it with information to support any mitigation. The Panel considered that a short period of suspension may provide the opportunity for the Registrant to engage and address her failings.

71. Shortly before the end of the Suspension, there will be a review. The reviewing panel may be assisted by:

• The Registrant attending in person and, if possible, being represented;

• Any medical information that may help the Panel to understand the cause of her behaviour at the time;

• Details of the circumstances relating to the caution for battery;

• Medical information on the Registrant’s current state of health;

• Testimonials from employers and/or colleagues relating to any work since the date of the allegation.

72. The Panel considered the length of any Suspension Order and concluded that a short period of suspension for six months would serve to emphasise to the Registrant the importance of engaging with this regulatory process, and would provide her with the opportunity to make representations to a future panel.

73. The Panel did consider whether a Striking Off Order was appropriate.

74. The Panel considered Paragraphs 47 and 49 of the Indicative Sanctions Policy:

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.

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.

75. Although the misconduct and the caution leading to the impairment in this case were serious, taking account of the mitigating circumstances relating to the allegation, the Panel considered that at this time a Striking Off Order would be disproportionate and punitive.

Order

That the Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Mrs Serena Odette Newnes 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 Serena Odette Newnes

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
27/11/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended