Mrs Pauline Stidwell

: Social worker

: SW62293

: Review Hearing

Date and Time of hearing:10:00 01/12/2017 End: 12:30 01/12/2017

: Health and Care Professions Council, 405 Kennington Road, London, SE11 4PT

: Conduct and Competence Committee
: Suspended

Allegation

During the course of your employment as a Social Worker at North Yorkshire
County Council you:

1. In relation to Service User A:

a) Gave Service User A your mobile telephone number;

b) On or around 17 March 2015, whilst on leave, received a text message from Service User A indicating that he was "feeling really suicidal" or words to that effect, and:

i. Sent it to the office phone;

ii. Did not check that a member of staff had received the message;

iii. Did not contact Service User A;

c) On or around 31 March 2015 did not discuss and/or make a record of discussing with Service User A:

i. the need for Service User A to contact the crisis team.

3. In relation to Service User C:

a) On or around 13 March 2015, received an urgent referral and did not reallocate it before going on leave;

b) Did not adequately record meetings scheduled and/or held with Service

User C:

i. On or around 7th April 2015;

ii. On or around 13 April 2015;

4. In relation to Service User D:

a) On or around 24 July 2014, received concerns from Service User D's mother that he was suicidal and:

i. Did not visit Service User D in a timely manner;


b) On or around 31 July 2014, visited Service User D's home, found the door locked and:

i. Did not contact and/or make a record of contacting Service User D on 1 August 2014 as planned;

ii. Did not escalate the matter to senior staff.

5. The matters set out in paragraphs 1 - 4 constitute misconduct and/or lack of competence.

6. By reason of your misconduct and/or lack of competence 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 2 November 2017 by first class post, to the address shown for the Registrant on the HCPC register.  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

2. 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. 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 HCPC Practice Note “Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant”.

3. The Panel determined that it was fair, reasonable and in the public interest to proceed in the Registrant’s absence for the following reasons:

a) The Panel noted that the Registrant did not attend the substantive hearing in June 2017 and the HCPC has received no communication from her since. In these circumstances the Panel was satisfied that it was reasonable to conclude that the Registrant’s non-attendance was voluntary and therefore a deliberate waiver of her right to attend and her right to participate in these proceedings.

b) There has been no application to adjourn and no indication from the Registrant that she would be willing or able to attend on an alternative date and therefore re-listing this final hearing would serve no useful purpose.

c) The Panel recognised that there may be a disadvantage to the Registrant in not being able to make submissions with regards to her current fitness to practise. However, she was given the opportunity to provide documents to the HCPC and has not taken up that opportunity. In these circumstances, as this is a mandatory review the Registrant’s interests are outweighed by the strong public interest in ensuring that the hearing proceeds expeditiously.

Background

4. The relevant background for the purposes of this review is set out below.

5. The Registrant is a registered Social Worker. The Registrant commenced employment for North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) on 29 September 2003. She was initially employed as a support worker, but became a Mental Health Social Worker from 22 March 2004.

6. In September 2014 a Serious Untoward Incident Review Report (SUI report) was completed by Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys (TEWV) NHS Foundation Trust following the death of Service User D, who had been allocated to the Registrant.  Subsequently, further issues were raised in relation to the Registrant’s practice concerning her management of cases relating to other service users.  As a result of these concerns, on 16 April 2015 the Registrant was suspended.

7. A disciplinary investigation meeting took place on 10 June 2015 in which the Registrant was interviewed. Following the investigation, disciplinary proceedings were initiated against the Registrant after which, on 8 March 2016, the Registrant was referred to the HCPC due to concerns in respect of the care she provided to a number of service users.

8. The HCPC final hearing took place on 12 – 16 June 2017. The panel determined that the particulars found proved amounted to misconduct and subsequently imposed a 6 month Suspension Order. The panel suggested that at the reviewing panel may be assisted by the following by the following:
• The Registrant’s attendance;
• Evidence of reflection about what went wrong in connection with these incidents, together with how they could be avoided in the future;
• Evidence of insight and remorse, particularly as to how her actions impacted upon others;
• Evidence that the Registrant has kept her skills and knowledge up to date, together with evidence of CPD, particularly in relation to risk assessment, risk management and record keeping;
• Evidence of the Registrant’s future intentions about practising as a social worker and details of her plans, if any, for such a return;
• Up to date and relevant testimonials (including from any current or previous line managers) and medical reports, if relevant;
• The Registrant’s continued engagement with the HCPC.

HCPC Submissions

9. Mr Thomas Pye, on behalf of the HCPC, outlined the history of this case. He referred the Panel to the information that the previous panel had suggested the Registrant may wish to provide to assist this reviewing panel. Mr Pye submitted that the Registrant had failed to take the opportunity that had been given to her to demonstrate that she is no longer impaired. He acknowledged that the Panel may wish to give the Registrant a further opportunity to engage with the regulatory process but invited the Panel to consider imposing a Striking Off Order.

Panel’s Approach

10. In undertaking this review, the Panel took into account the documentary evidence and the submissions from Mr Pye, on behalf of the HCPC.

11. The Panel accepted and applied the advice it received from the Legal Assessor as to the proper approach it should adopt. In particular that:
• The purpose of the review is to consider the issue of impairment based on the previous panel’s findings of fact, the extent to which the Registrant has engaged with the regulatory process, the scope and level of her insight and the risk of repetition.

• In terms of whether her previous misconduct has been sufficiently and appropriately remedied relevant factors include whether the Registrant:

(i) fully appreciates the gravity of the previous panel’s finding of impairment;
(ii) has maintained her skills and knowledge;
(iii) is likely to place service users at risk if she were to return to unrestricted practice.

• The Panel should have regard to the HCPTS Practice Note: Finding that Fitness to Practise is impaired and must take account of a range of issues which, in essence, comprise two components:

(i) the ‘personal’ component: the current competence, behaviour etc. of the individual registrant; and

(ii) the ‘public’ component: the need to protect service users, declare and uphold proper standards of behaviour and maintain public confidence in the profession.

• It is only if the Panel determines that the Registrant’s fitness to practise remains impaired, that the Panel should go on to consider sanction by applying the guidance as set out in the HCPTS Indicative Sanctions Policy (ISP), and the principles of proportionality which require the Registrant’s interests to be balanced against the interests of the public.

Decision
  
12. The Panel noted that there has been no engagement from the Registrant during these review proceedings. As a consequence there was no evidence before the Panel that she fully appreciates the gravity of her failings, there was no explanation as to how she would behave differently in the future and no assurance that the deficiencies in her practice have been remedied and would therefore not be repeated. In the absence of any insight and any steps she has taken towards remediation since the previous panels finding of impairment, the Panel concluded that there is a real risk of repetition.

13. In the absence of any positive evidence of insight and remediation, the Panel concluded that there was no evidence that there has been any material change in circumstances, with regards to the risk to service users and the consequential impact on public trust and confidence. A significant aspect of the public component is upholding proper standards of behaviour. Members of the public would be extremely concerned to learn that a social worker working with vulnerable service users had failed to protect their interests, as this clearly has the potential to compromise their safety and well-being. The Registrant’s conduct fell below the standard expected of a registered social worker and the Panel concluded that until the Registrant has remedied her wrongdoing, she continues to pose a risk. The Panel also concluded that a finding of no impairment would fail to declare and uphold proper standards, would undermine confidence in the profession and would undermine public confidence in the HCPC as a professional regulator given the nature and seriousness of the Registrants previous conduct and behaviour.

14. Therefore, the Panel was led to the inevitable conclusion that the Registrant’s fitness to practise remains impaired.  
15. Having determined that the Registrant’s fitness to practise remains impaired that Panel went on to consider what sanction, if any, to impose.

16. The Panel first considered taking no action. The Panel concluded that, in view of the nature and seriousness of the Registrant’s misconduct which remains un-remedied to take no action on her registration would be inappropriate. Furthermore it would be insufficient to protect the public, maintain public confidence and uphold the reputation of the profession.

17. The Panel went on to consider a Caution Order. As the Registrant has persistently demonstrated no insight into her misconduct, provided no evidence of remediation and whilst the risk of repetition remains, the Panel concluded that a Caution Order would be inappropriate and insufficient to protect the public and meet the wider public interest.

18. The Panel took the view that the Registrant is either unwilling or unable to provide the information and evidence that was suggested by the substantive hearing panel. In these circumstances, this Panel had no confidence that she would comply with a Conditions of Practice Order, even if suitable conditions could be formulated. The Panel was aware that the suggestions made by the previous panel are only indicative and do not have any binding authority, unlike conditions which require compliance. However, both involve willingness on the part of the Registrant and a determined effort. In the absence of any evidence that the Registrant is willing and able to remedy her previous misconduct the Panel concluded that there were no conditions it could devise which would be appropriate, workable and measurable.

19. The Panel next considered extending the current Suspension Order for a further period of time. A Suspension Order would re-affirm to the Registrant, the profession and the public, the standards expected of a registered social worker. The Panel noted that a Suspension Order would prevent the Registrant from practising during the extended suspension period, which would therefore protect the public and the wider public interest. A Suspension Order would also provide the Registrant with the opportunity to develop the insight which is essential if she intends to return to practice.

20. The Panel took into account paragraph 41 of the Indicative Sanctions Policy states:
‘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.’

21. The Panel took the view that the above paragraph may apply to the Registrant. However, the Panel determined that the Registrant should be given a further opportunity to consider carefully the decision of the previous panel and this Panel and properly focus on the issues that have been identified.

22. The Panel determined that the Suspension Order should be imposed for a further period of 6 months. The Panel was satisfied that this period would be sufficient for the Registrant to demonstrate an appropriate level of insight into her failings. If she is unable to demonstrate insight within that time frame it is highly unlikely that she will ever be able to do so.

23. In determining that the Registrant should be given a further opportunity to engage with the regulatory process the Panel concluded that a Striking Off Order, at this point in time, would be disproportionate as there remains a possibility that the Registrant is willing and able to demonstrate remediation. In particular the Panel noted that the Registrant’s failings are capable of being remedied and that she previously had an unblemished career.

24. This Panel cannot bind a future panel but it is highly likely that this will be the Registrant’s last chance to demonstrate insight and remediation.  If the Registrant fails to take advantage of this further opportunity to demonstrate that she has addressed the deficiencies in her practice the outcome may be a Striking Off Order.

25. The extended Suspension Order will be reviewed shortly before expiry. A future reviewing panel may be assisted by:
• The Registrant’s attendance in person or by telephone;
• Written or oral evidence of reflection about what went wrong in connection with these incidents, together with how they could be avoided in the future;
• Written or oral evidence of insight and remorse, particularly as to how her actions impacted upon others;
• Evidence that the Registrant has kept her skills and knowledge up to date, together with evidence of CPD, particularly in relation to risk assessment, risk management and record keeping;
• Evidence of the Registrant’s future intentions about practising as a social worker and details of her plans, if any, for such a return;
• Up to date and relevant testimonials (including from any current or previous line managers) and medical reports, if relevant;
• The Registrant’s continued engagement with the HCPC.

23. Accordingly, the Panel concluded that the appropriate and proportionate sanction would be a Suspension Order.

Order

ORDER: That the Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Ms Pauline Stidwell for a period of 6 months from the date this order comes into effect.

 

Notes

The order imposed today will apply from 14 January 2018.
This order will be reviewed again before its expiry on 13 July 2018. 

Hearing history

History of Hearings for Mrs Pauline Stidwell

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
01/12/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing Suspended
12/06/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended
10/04/2017 Conduct and Competence Committee Interim Order Review Interim Suspension