Mr Ian James alan Rigg
Whilst registered as a Social Worker and employed by Suffolk County Council:
1. In regards to service user 1, when you were not professionally involved in her case, you;
a) During 2016, accessed her Care First Record
b) In March 2016, emailed her hospital team about the case; and/or
c) In March 2016, sent an Activity on her Care First Account to the hospital team
2. In regards to service user 2 you, in January 2015, ordered Occupational Therapy equipment for her when you were not professionally involved in her case.
3. Did not conduct adequate case work and / or keep up to date and/or accurate service user records, in that:
a) For service user 5, between January 2016 and on or around 6 April 2016, you did not maintain adequate records on Care First in that you:
i. Did not record all contact with service user 5;
ii. Did not enter notes on Care First of your visit on 20 January 2016;
iii. Did not enter records of any follow up actions and / or outcomes in respect of the Adult MASH and section 42 enquiry;
iv. Did not record an Eligibility Decision Record, Personal Budget Summary and / or Care and Support Review;
v. Did not update the service user agreement to refer to the 50:50 funding agreement with the Children and Young People Team
b) For service user 4:
i. you did not send their Continuing Health Care checklist to the Norfolk Clinical Commissioning Group;
ii. You did not document any action or records for this service user between 24 September 2015 and April 2016;
iii. you closed the case when further casework was required,
c) For service user 7, between October 2015 and on or around 6 April 2016, you did not record on Care First:
i. The meeting on 18 November 2015 where the case was discussed;
ii. The home visit of the 8 March 2016; and/or
iii. A Completed Personal Budget Summary.
iv. any action or records for this service user between 22 October 2015 and April 2016;
d) For Service User 13 you did not properly action the self-referral regarding the reduction in a direct payment.
e) You did not properly request budget approval for:
i. Service User 12;
ii. Service User 14;
4. On or around 19 August 2015 you sent inappropriate and/or unprofessional emails about a service user to a work colleague.
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.
1. The Panel has seen a copy of the Notice of Hearing dated 11 September 2017 and the Amended Notice of Allegation dated 26 July 2017, which contain all relevant information, the proof of posting of the same date, and a copy of the certificate of the Registrant’s registered address. The Panel determined that there was good service of the Notice of Hearing on the Registrant at his registered address in accordance with the provisions of Rule 6(1) of The Health and Care Professions Council (Conduct and Competence Committee) (Procedure) Rules 2003, as amended (“the Rules”).
Proceeding in absence
2. The Panel heard a submission from Mr Paterson on behalf of the HCPC to proceed in the absence of the Registrant under Rule 11 of the Rules. The Registrant was not present or represented, and has not sent any representations for this substantive hearing. The Panel accepted the Legal Assessor’s advice to consider all the circumstances and take account of the guidance in the relevant HCPTS Practice Note on ‘Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant’ (March 2017), and that the Panel had a duty to test the HCPC evidence if the Panel proceeds in the Registrant’s absence.
3. The Panel noted that the Registrant had not applied for an adjournment. The Panel also took account of the public interest in final hearings being dealt with at the appropriate time and expeditiously. There was no reason to think that if the hearing was adjourned, the Registrant would then attend or be represented. The Panel was also mindful that two witnesses were in attendance with a third witness warned for the following day.
4. The Panel determined that the Registrant had exercised his choice not to attend in person or by telephone, or be represented at the hearing today and there was nothing to suggest that he would attend, or be represented, on a future date if this hearing was adjourned. He had been engaging with the HCPC prior to the Investigating Committee meeting in October 2016, but not since. Any adjournment was likely to be of several months with no real likelihood of the Registrant then attending or being represented. It was accordingly fair, proportionate and in the public interest to proceed with this final hearing in his absence.
Amendments of the Allegation
5. Notice of the proposed amendments to the Allegation was sent to the Registrant on 26 July 2017. Those amendments are a deletion of one Particular, and introducing more specific details of the alleged concerns in Particulars 3 and 4 which make the Registrant more aware of how the HCPC puts its case against him.
6. The Panel accepted the Legal Assessor’s advice that it could agree to the proposed amendments if it considered that to do so would not be unfair to the Registrant or create injustice to him in all the circumstances.
7. The Panel determined to allow the proposed amendments and the correction of some typographical errors. Those had been notified to the Registrant in July 2017 and made the case clearer to him. In these circumstances, the Panel determined that there would be no injustice to the Registrant.
8. It is alleged that the conduct of the Registrant, a registered Social Worker, amounted to misconduct and/or lack of competence. The Registrant was employed as a grade 5 Social Worker by Suffolk County Council (“the Council”) from July 2012, and he was still in this role in 2016 when the matters which are the subject of the Allegation came to light. The Particulars of the Allegation concern a variety of matters during both 2015 and 2016 covering unauthorised access to service user records, improperly initiating actions, failure to conduct adequate case work, and failure to enter notes and records on case files.
9. Witness 1 has been the Council’s Cluster Manager of the North Review Team from May 2015. The team conducts reviews of adults with learning disabilities, physical disabilities, mental health problems, dementia, age-related difficulties, sensory impairments, drug and alcohol dependency, and carers of the same. She was the Registrant’s line manager from June 2015, having previously been his colleague from January 2014. She confirmed the contents of her witness statement dated 27 July 2017 which detailed her evidence in respect of Particulars 1, 2, 3 and 4. In response to a Panel question, Witness 1 said that the Registrant had never said to her that he was struggling with his work and she had had no concerns about his work or his health. She felt that professionally she had got on well with the Registrant.
10. Witness 1 explained that the Registrant, who had qualified in 2012, had a close friend in the team, Colleague 2, who stayed during the week with his grandmother, Service User 1. Service User 1 became a hospital inpatient and, up until that point she had not been a service user, but in March 2016 the Registrant accessed her Care First Record and emailed the hospital Social Work Team asking for Service User 1 to be allocated a Social Worker. The Registrant suggested in the email that Service User 1’s daughter might not be acting in Service User 1’s best interests. Witness 1 explained that this breached the Council’s ‘Confidentiality of Client Data on Care First’ policy and the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) security warning pop ups that appear when accessing the computer system.
11. Witness 1 then reviewed the Registrant’s records on Care First and discovered that the Registrant had also improperly made an entry regarding another service user, Service User 2, who was Colleague 2’s mother. The Registrant had sought equipment for Service User 2 when he was not involved in her case. As part of the Council’s investigation, a member of staff was interviewed who stated that: “It is usual that allocations for family members might be speeded up. I am very conscious of not doing the wrong thing or crossing professional boundaries. A significant minority of people in the teams would just get on and process the referrals for team member’s family members etc. in my opinion. It would be fairly common practice to do that and not always discuss with a manager.” When asked by the Panel about this, Witness 1 said that she was not aware of any culture in the team to make referrals about service users who were not in a Social Worker’s individual allocation of cases.
12. The Council determined in April 2016 to carry out a full investigation and appointed Witness 2 to carry that out. The Registrant was suspended from working and his cases were re-allocated between five Social Workers in the review team. Shortly after that, all five reported to Witness 1 their concerns about the quality of the Registrant’s work and lack of expected recording.
13. Witness 1 had reviewed the Registrant’s records. She discovered that the Registrant had not completed the required Eligibility Decision Record, Personal Budget Summary or a Care and Support Review in respect of Service User 5. This should have been done following his home visit to Service User 5 on 20 January 2016. Further, the Registrant had not made any file notes about the home visit which he should have done.
14. Witness 1 said other issues arose in respect of the Registrant’s conduct in handling Service User 5’s case. The Registrant had made a safeguarding referral (Adult MASH and section 42 enquiry) on 20 January 2016, but he did not act upon the request for additional information dated 27 January 2016. A safeguarding investigation took place on 26 February 2016 and certain recommendations were made, but there was no record that the Registrant had acted on those recommendations. The Registrant had also not documented a joint visit to Service User 5 in February 2016 with a Children and Young People’s worker or the agreement apparently made at that meeting of a 50:50 joint funding. Those should have been documented on the Care First system by the Registrant.
15. Witness 1’s review also revealed a lack of records made by the Registrant in respect of Service User 7 who suffered from multiple sclerosis and lived in sheltered housing. A need for a review had been identified and Witness 1 recollected that she had met with the Registrant and Service User 7’s service provider on 18 November 2015 to discuss whether direct payments should be made because Service User 7 was unhappy with the care and support he was receiving. The Registrant had not documented this meeting.
16. Witness 1 had also accompanied the Registrant on a home visit on 8 March 2016 and the Registrant should have followed up possible alternatives for care provision for Service User 7. The Registrant also made no record of the home visit Witness 1 conducted with him on 8 March 2016, and had not recorded in the period from October 2015 to April 2016, as required, a completed Personal Summary Budget Summary. Indeed, nothing had been recorded by the Registrant on Service User 7’s Care First record for the 170 day period from 21 October 2015 until his suspension.
17. Service User 4 had alcohol-related dementia and had been moved from one care home to another which was closer to his brother. Service User 4 was deemed to be at risk because he regularly absconded and went missing. Witness 1 and the Registrant had met on 1 October 2015 with Service User 4, his brother, the care home manager and staff from the Dementia Intensive Support Team. The purpose of the meeting was to decide whether the Council would fund extra one to one care pending the outcome of a continuing care assessment. On her review, Witness 1 found that the Registrant did not record that meeting. The Registrant had completed the continuing healthcare checklist, but had sent it to the wrong Clinical Commissioning Group who had returned it to the Council. The checklist was later discovered in the Registrant’s locker on 29 April 2016.
18. Further, Witness 1 stated that the Registrant had inappropriately requested closure of Service User 4’s case in October 2015 when all work was not completed. Witness 1 realised this in supervision on 19 January 2016 and she had re-allocated his case to the Registrant. After this, the Registrant reopened the case, but back-dated the records to make it look like he had run the case continuously.
19. Witness 1 found that the Registrant had made no entry in Service User 4’s file after 23 September 2015 for a period of 197 days until the Registrant’s suspension.
20. Service User 13 was a woman who was registered blind and suffered from depression and was in constant pain. She received direct payment to enable her to access the community. On 2 March 2016, the Registrant was allocated a review of the amount of direct payment that she was receiving. He requested and received a breakdown of the direct payment expenditure on 3 March 2014, but the Registrant took no further action by the time he was suspended on 11 April 2016.
21. Witness 1 stated that Service User 12 was the carer for her husband, Service User 8. The Registrant failed to obtain the necessary authorisation from Witness 1 for a four hours’ sitting service to be provided for Service User 12. This would have taken the care package for Service User 8 above the indicative personal budget which was already a high care cost package. Witness 1 alleged that the Registrant wrongly authorised the sitting service from 13 January 2016, which resulted in the care provider’s invoices for the sitting service being rejected.
22. Witness 1 said that the Registrant had failed to properly obtain the necessary budget approval from her in respect of Service User 14. Incorrectly, the Registrant submitted a budget approval request the day after he had closed his allocation of the case. Witness 1 explained that no case allocation closure should be sought by a social worker in the review team until the case had been finalised.
23. Witness 2 is the Council’s System Transformation Manager – Social Care Lead and is a registered social worker. She did not know the Registrant before she was appointed in April 2016 as Investigating Officer for the Council’s investigation into the Registrant’s use of the Care First system. She confirmed the contents of her witness statement dated 21 June 2017 and its exhibits, which included her investigation report dated 12 May 2016 and transcript of her interview with the Registrant on 25 May 2016.
24. Witness 2 explained that Witnesses 1 and 3 detailed their concerns to her during her investigatory interviews with each of them. With regard to Particular 4, Witness 2 referred to the relevant sections of the Council’s ‘Email Acceptable Use Policy’ and ‘Acceptable Use of IT Policy’ which stated that staff should not create “material that promotes intolerance and discrimination on the grounds of…race…” Witness 2 identified the two emails created by the Registrant and sent to Colleague C, on 19 August 2015. The first email contained a photograph of two women of Asian descent which Witness 3 thought were images of ‘Geisha girls’ which the Registrant titled: “Service User 11 – Her Passport Photo”. In the second he wrote: “You may need this” attaching a hyperlink to a Chinese phrase book.
25. Witness 3 is a registered Social Worker and has been the Cluster Manager of Cluster Team 1 within the Adult Services Team at the Council since July 2015. She confirmed the contents of her witness statement dated 23 March 2017.
26. In relation to Particular 4, Witness 3 told the Panel that the service user that was the subject of the Registrant’s emails of 19 August 2015 was Service User 17, who was, Witness 3 believed, originated from Thailand or Asia. Witness 3 went on to say that as English was Service User 17’s first language, an English phrase book was unnecessary.
27. Witness 3 explained that on 5 April 2016 she was sent a referral for Service User 1 from the Community Hospital Team. Witness 3 reviewed the Care First record and noticed that the Registrant, who had no professional relationship with Service User 1, had inappropriately accessed the record. He had also inappropriately sent an activity via the computer system to the Community Hospital Team requesting allocation of the case with his personal view that an advocate was likely to be needed due to “family dynamic issues”. The Registrant had also emailed the main hospital Social Work Team requesting allocation of the case adding the comment “Family dynamics are complicated with an overbearing daughter…I am worried about this lady and decisions being made by family that are not going to be in her best interests.” Witness 3 said that expressing his personal views was inappropriate and unprofessional and “an abuse of power”.
28. Service User 2 was Colleague 2’s mother. Witness 3 checked the Care First records and saw that the Registrant had emailed an Occupational Therapist Assistant requesting a commode for Service User 2. Witness 3 said that this was inappropriate and unprofessional because the Registrant had no allocated professional involvement with Service User 2. Witness 3 rejected the suggestion that it was common practice for those working in the team to get involved in cases not allocated to them, and she said that she would find such a practice “alarming”.
Decision on facts
29. Mr Paterson submitted that the HCPC has produced sufficient evidence for the Panel to find that each Particular of the Allegation proved on the balance of probabilities. He submitted that the evidence of the three HCPC witnesses was both credible and reliable, and supported by the exhibited documents in the hearing bundle.
30. The Panel accepted the Legal Assessor’s advice that the burden of proof was upon the HCPC to prove each and every Particular in the Allegation, and the standard of proof required was that a fact had to be proved on the balance of probabilities.
31. The Panel carefully considered all the documentary and oral evidence, and the submissions of Mr Paterson. Witness 1 was a key witness and the Panel found her to be honest, consistent, balanced and frank in her evidence. She said if she did not know something, and was able to give examples of the Registrant’s good work. The Panel concluded that her evidence was both credible and reliable.
32. Witness 2’s evidence was limited to her involvement in the Council’s investigation, but the Panel found her to be a straightforward and frank witness. She was fair and balanced. An example of this is within her investigatory report: “During the course of this investigation I have observed situations where confidential information had been shared by north managers with other people which supports IR’s view on the way information is managed within that area that may impact IR’s ability to trust his line manager.” Witness 2 did not try to paint a perfect picture of the Council’s Social Work Teams. The Panel concluded that her evidence was credible and reliable.
33. Witness 3 gave key evidence about the matters in Particulars 1 and 2. She was clearly passionate about social work and its values, and, perhaps because of this, was critical of the Registrant. Overall the Panel concluded that her evidence in relation to Particular 1 and 2 was helpful.
Particular 1(a) - found proved
34. The Panel accepted the evidence of Witnesses 1 and 3 that the Registrant would have had to log in to the Council’s computer system, then log in to the case management system itself, and then log in to a customer record, before being able to create an Activity. An Activity was recorded in the Registrant’s name on the Care First records for Service User 1 on 21 March 2016, and the Panel has seen a copy of that Activity screenshot. The Panel accepted Witness 1’s evidence that the Registrant was not professionally involved in Service User 1’s case. The Registrant accepted in his investigation interview on 25 May 2016 that Service User 1 was not one of his cases.
Particular 1(b) – found proved
35. Witness 1 also produced a copy of the Registrant’s email dated 21 March 2016 to the hospital Social Work Team seeking a referral to them, in which the Registrant wrote “I know the lady and her family so it’s inappropriate to become involved…” The Registrant admitted that he sent this email during his investigation interview on 25 May 2016.
Particular 1(c) - found proved
36. As already noted in 1a above, the Panel has seen a copy of the Activity screenshot concerning Service User 1 dated 21 March 2016 created by the Registrant.
Particular 2 – found proved
37. The Panel has seen a copy of the Care First record for Service User 2 made by the Registrant recording that he has sought a commode for Service User 2, whom Witness 1 had said was not one of the Registrant’s cases. In the investigation interview on 25 May 2016, the Registrant accepted that he had never been allocated that case, but, because he was concerned, he had sent an email seeking the commode from the Occupational Therapy Service “in the inappropriate way”.
Particular 3(a)(i) – found proved - not keeping up to date and accurate service user records
38. The Panel accepted the evidence of Witness 1 that Service User 5 was allocated to the Registrant on 8 January 2015 and the Panel has seen a copy of the Activity recording that on Care First. It is also recorded by the Registrant that he intended to visit Service User 5 on 20 January 2015. There is, however, no record on Care First dealing with that home visit.
Particular 3(a)(ii) – found proved - not keeping up to date and accurate service user records
39. The evidence is the same as 3a)i and is found proved for the same reasons.
Particular 3(a)(iii) – found proved - not keeping up to date and accurate service user records
40. The Adult MASH Enquiry Form initiated on 3 February 2016 records that the Registrant made a safeguarding referral on 20 January 2016, and the decision on 3 February 2016 was for a joint Police and Adult Care Services Level One investigation. This is also recorded on the Care First case file on 3 February 2016. The Panel accepted that the Registrant did not record any response to the request for additional information dated 27 January 2016 and secondly, following the safeguarding investigation dated 26 February 2016, the Registrant did not record that he had acted on those recommendations. Although the Registrant worked until 11 April 2016, the case file shows that the Registrant did not record any follow up actions or other outcomes in respect of that investigation.
Particular 3(a)(iv) – found proved – not keeping up to date and accurate service user records
41. The Panel accepted Witness 1’s evidence that it was a basic, and minimum, requirement of an allocated reviewing social worker, such as the Registrant, to prepare and record three documents onto Care First for each allocated Service User – an Eligibility Decision Record, a Personal Budget Summary and a Care and Support Review. The Panel has seen that none of these were recorded on the Care First case file notes by the Registrant in respect of Service User 5.
Particular 3(a)(v) – found proved - not keeping up to date and accurate service user records
42. When interviewed on 25 May 2016, the Registrant told Witness 2 that the Children and Young People Services (CYP) had agreed to fund additional support for Service User 5 on a 50:50 basis. Although the Registrant said in his investigation interview on 25 May 2016, that he did not understand the process, it can be seen from the Care First case file that no such agreement had been noted by the Registrant. It was subsequently ascertained by Witness 1 that CYP had attended a joint visit with the Registrant in February 2016 and had agreed to that shared funding, but that the Registrant had not forwarded a budget approval request to Witness 1 for authorisation.
Particular 3(b)(i) – found proved - not conducting adequate case work
43. An urgent task for the Registrant from when he was re-allocated Service User 4 from 19 January 2016 was to ascertain from the Norfolk Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) whether funding for care could be obtained from Health rather than Social Care. This required the Registrant to send a completed Continuing Health Care (CHC) checklist to Norfolk CCG. The Registrant informed Witness 1 in supervision on 17 February 2016 that Norfolk CCG had not received it and that he would send it again that day. In supervision on 15 March 2016, the Registrant informed Witness 1 that Norfolk CCG had confirmed receipt of the CHC checklist. This was not true, because the completed CHC checklist was subsequently found in the Registrant’s locker on 29 April 2016.
Particular 3(b)(ii) – found proved - not keeping up to date and accurate service user records
44. The Care First case file for Service User 4 shows no record of any work on the case by the Registrant between 24 September 2015 and 11 April 2016 when the Registrant was suspended from work.
Particular 3(b)(iii) – found proved - not conducting adequate case work
45. The Panel accepts Witness 1’s evidence that Business Support had closed Service User 4’s case in October 2015 at the request of the Registrant, who was at that time Service User 4’s allocated reviewing Social Worker. The Registrant had requested this closure inappropriately because the case needed further work. Witness 1 and the Registrant had met with Service User 4, the manager of the care home and staff from the Dementia Intensive Support Team (DST) on 1 October 2015. It was agreed that one to one care would be provided pending a CHC assessment, but the Registrant had closed the case.
Particular 3(c)(i) – found proved - not keeping up to date and accurate service user records
46. The Panel accepts Witness 1’s evidence that on 18 November 2015 she went with the Registrant to meet Service User 7’s service provider to discuss whether a direct payment could be made as Service User 7 was unhappy with the care and support he was receiving. The Panel has seen a copy of the Care First case file and there is no record of this meeting.
Particular 3(c)(ii) – found proved - not keeping up to date and accurate service user records
47. The Panel accepts Witness 1’s evidence that on 8 March 2016 she went with the Registrant to meet Service User 7 who was still unhappy with his service provider. A discussion was had about the alternatives that could be offered. The Panel has seen a copy of the Care First case file and there is no record of this meeting.
Particular 3(c)(iii) – found not proved
48. The evidence of Witness 1 was that there was a completed Personal Budget Summary on the system from January 2015, and a supported housing review dated 28 September 2015, indicating that Service User 7’s personal budget remained unchanged. In these circumstances, the Panel is not satisfied that there was a duty on the Registrant to record a further completed Personal Budget Summary when the case was allocated to him from 7 September 2015 through to April 2016.
Particular 3(c)(iv) – found proved - not keeping up to date and accurate service user records
49. It is clear from the copy of the Care First case file for Service User 7 provided to the Panel that the Registrant had not made any record from 6 October 2015 to 8 April 2016 when he ceased work.
Particular 3(d) – found not proved
50. Service User 13 was allocated to the Registrant on 2 March 2016, according to Witness 1. The Care First case file contains a record by Colleague 2 (from whom the Registrant had taken over the case) that the Registrant has put an activity on to the review team regarding this self-referral for a reduction in a direct payment. The next day it is recorded that an Independent Living Adviser had sent a detailed email about payments to the Registrant following the Registrant contacting her. There is no evidence of what further action it is alleged that the Registrant should have taken.
Particular 3(e)(i) – found not proved
51. The Panel does not accept that the evidence shows that the Registrant authorised a 4 hours’ respite sitting service for Service User 12, who was the carer for Service User 8, without first obtaining Witness 1’s approval. The Care First case file note produced for 13 January 2016 does not record the Registrant recording his authorisation of the sitting service, but records meeting Service User 12 and “Agreed to make urgent enquiries and to stay in touch.”
Particular 3(e)(ii) – found not proved
52. The exhibited Care First case file record shows that the Registrant did request budget approval for Service User 14, setting out full information, on 5 October 2015. Witness 1 confirmed that she approved this request.
Particular 4 – found proved
53. The Registrant was asked in his investigation interview on 25 May 2016 whether the sending of such emails was good practice and replied: “No, absolutely not.” The Panel determined that both emails breached the Council’s ‘Email Acceptable Use Policy’ and ‘Acceptable Use of IT Policy’ as the content promoted intolerance and discrimination on the grounds of race, and was inappropriate and unprofessional for a social worker to send.
Decision on grounds
54. Mr Paterson submitted that the proven matters could properly be regarded by the Panel as misconduct rather than demonstrating the Registrant’s lack of competence.
55. The Panel accepted the Legal Assessor’s advice that the matters of misconduct and/or lack of competence were matters for the independent professional judgement of the Panel. The ground of lack of competence required an assessment, made of a fair sample of the Registrant’s work, not meeting the required standards. Misconduct, on the other hand, was a different ground and requires a serious departure from the proper professional standards. A single negligent act or omission was unlikely to amount to misconduct, but could do so if particularly serious. Further, multiple negligent acts or omissions were more likely to cross the threshold of misconduct. Serious misconduct has been described in legal cases as conduct which put service users at unwarranted risk of harm; conduct which brought the profession into disrepute; and conduct which breached a fundamental tenet of the profession.
56. The Panel carefully considered the proven facts and determined that the evidence did not demonstrate that the Registrant did not know how to action his work or make proper records on Care First. Rather, they amounted to:
a) instances of the Registrant failing to take the appropriate actions, or make up to date and accurate notes; and
b) instances of the Registrant positively doing things that he would have known were inappropriate and unprofessional (Particulars 1, 2, 3(b)(i), 3(b)(ii) and 4).
57. The Panel therefore determined that the proven matters amounted to instances of misconduct because the Registrant had failed to act in accordance with standards 1, 2, 7 and 10 of the HCPC’s ‘Standards of conduct, performance and ethics’ (2012) in place at the relevant time.
58. The Panel then considered whether the proven misconduct amounted to misconduct which was serious. The Panel concluded that it was serious. The Registrant worked in a review team assisting vulnerable service users. Lack of timely and accurate records prevented other professionals knowing all the relevant information regarding the service users which could potentially result in a service user suffering harm. An example of this is Service User 4, who suffered from alcohol related dementia, where there is no record of any work on the case by the Registrant between 24 September 2015 and 11 April 2016.
59. The Registrant has also shown a complete disregard for confidentiality in accessing the records of Service Users 1 and 2 whom had not been allocated to him, when he sought to action matters regarding them. Even allowing for his good intentions, and what he believed was a culture of helping each other out, every time he accessed service user records, he have had to actively confirm on the system that he understood the IT security warning and the Council’s IT policies. Further, the sending of the two emails was reprehensible, as the Registrant himself realised.
60. Accordingly, the Panel determined that the ground of misconduct was established.
Decision on impairment
61. Mr Paterson submitted that the past misconduct had posed a risk to service users and a serious disregard of proper professional standards. There was, he submitted, no evidence of remorse, insight or remediation so that there was a risk of repetition of the misconduct which was likely to have detrimental implications for service users. He further submitted that public confidence in the profession would be undermined if the Registrant fitness to practise was not found to be impaired by reason of his proven misconduct in this case.
62. The Panel accepted the Legal Assessor’s advice that the Panel had to consider whether that past misconduct leads to this Registrant’s fitness to practise being impaired now. There are two component parts of the test for impairment. First, there is what may be termed the personal component of this decision. The Panel considers the proven past misconduct or other ground, together with all the other evidence the Panel have in respect of the Registrant, (e.g. insight, any evidence of the remedying of the deficiencies, the risk of repetition, the risk to the public presented by any repetition of the misconduct). Second, the Panel must also consider what may be termed the public component, namely, what would be the effect of not finding impairment on the wider public interest? That wider public interest includes the maintenance of public confidence in the profession and its regulator, and the declaring and upholding of proper standards of conduct. Those components are dealt with in the HCPTS’s Practice Note ‘Finding that Fitness to Practise is ‘Impaired’‘ (March 2017).
63. The Panel noted that the Registrant had not engaged in this final hearing and there was no evidence from him regarding any remorse, any current insight into his misconduct, or any efforts to remediate his misconduct. In such circumstances the Panel could only conclude that there remained a risk of repetition. Any repetition of the misconduct could have an impact on the care services being provided to service users, and the consequences could be potentially serious for service users.
64. The Panel also determined that the public would lose confidence in the profession and its regulator if the Registrant was not found to have his fitness to practise impaired by reason of the proven misconduct which had not been remediated. Further, there was a need for the Panel to uphold and declare proper standards of conduct, performance and ethics for the profession.
65. Accordingly, the Panel determined that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired by reason of his misconduct.
Decision on sanction
66. Mr Paterson submitted that, in accordance with the HCPC’s Indicative Sanctions Policy (ISP) March 2017, the appropriate sanction in this case was a matter for the independent judgement of the Panel. The Panel had identified the Registrant’s lack of insight, the extent of the misconduct over a considerable period of time, and the risk of repetition of the misconduct and the possible consequences of any repetition.
67. The Panel fully reviewed its findings and earlier determinations set out above. It bore in mind, as advised by the Legal Assessor, the guidance in the ISP March 2017, and that the purpose of a sanction is not to punish the Registrant, but to protect the public and the wider public interest. Further, in deciding whether to impose a sanction, and, if so, what sanction, the Panel must exercise the principle of proportionality, so that it only imposes the minimum sanction necessary to achieve the requisite protection of the public and the wider public interest in this particular case.
68. The Panel considered that there were a number of aggravating features. The misconduct occurred over approximately a year and covered breach of confidentiality, inaction on cases, absence of record-keeping, and the sending of disrespectful and reprehensible emails to a colleague in respect of a service user. There was a lack of engagement in this process since the Investigation Committee hearing with an accompanying lack of evidence of insight, remorse and willingness to remediate.
69. There were, however, several mitigating factors. The Panel considered that more robust supervision could have picked up sooner the lack of recording of both meetings and actions in case files, and the Registrant’s inaction on a number allocated cases. There was evidence from Witness 1 that the Registrant was capable of good work, which demonstrates that the misconduct is remediable. There was also evidence that the Registrant was well-intentioned in respect of getting involved in the cases of Service Users 1 and 2, which were not his allocated cases.
70. The Panel first concluded that to take no action, mediation or to make a Caution Order, would be inappropriate and inadequate given the wide-ranging nature of the misconduct.
71. The Panel next considered a Conditions of Practice Order, but concluded in the absence of the Registrant engaging with his regulator there were no suitable and workable conditions that could be drafted to sufficiently protect the public from the risks of repetition and the risk posed by repetition of the misconduct.
72. The Panel moved on to consider a Suspension Order. It took account of paragraph 41 of the ISP that 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.”
73. The Panel therefore concluded that a Suspension Order, for a period of 9 months, would be a sufficient and appropriate sanction in this case to both protect the public and protect the wider public interest of maintaining confidence in the profession and to uphold and declare proper standards of conduct for the profession. The Panel determined that a Striking Off Order would be disproportionate in the circumstances.
74. The Suspension Order will be reviewed before its expiry and the Registrant will be expected to attend that review (in person, video-link or by telephone). It may be helpful to that review panel to receive evidence from the Registrant in respect of:
• any reflection, insight and remorse regarding the misconduct
• any CPD or training undertaken to remedy the failings identified
• personal references from professionals (including in a voluntary capacity)