A recent decision of the UK Health Care Professions Council (HCPC) has highlighted the significance of upholding proper professional standards and public confidence in a profession.

Background

The Registrant social worker who was employed as a Service Manager for Fostering, Placement, Procurement and Business Support at Lewisham Council, organised a private marketing event which took place in February 2014. The Registrant asked the Lewisham Council staff to produce a list of foster carers and to call those foster carers to invite them to the event. A junior member of staff was also requested by the Registrant to print off promotional material for the event. A complaint was subsequently made by a foster carer in respect of the misuse of personal data.

Decision

In considering whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise was currently impaired the Panel had regard to the guidance given by Dame Janet Smith’s Fifth Shipman Report, adopted by Mrs Justice Cox in CHRE v NMC and Grant [2011] EWHC 927 andmade the following findings: –

  1. The Panel concluded that the Registrant’s fitness to practice was impaired and took account of the fact that social workers deal with, and have access to, confidential information and it is “a fundamental tenet of the profession that such information is protected rigorously”.
  2. The Panel commented that the Registrant invited people (including foster carers) to the event without being clear with them that it was a marketing event, and nothing to do with Lewisham Council business and in “the process she used Council resources inappropriately and she damaged her relationships with foster carers and colleagues”.
  3. The Panel also expressed concern that the Registrant had not recognised that she was dishonest and noted that while she had expressed contrition she had not demonstrated full insight.

Decision on Sanction

The Panel determined that the Registrant’s conduct fell below the standard expected of a social worker and the public interest requires “that the misconduct is marked” and deemed that the appropriate and proportionate sanction in this case to be a Suspension Order. The Panel determined that a suspension order would be necessary until “it can be established that there has been remediation with the consequence that there is full insight on the part of the Registrant and that there is no significant risk of repetition”.

The Suspension Order was made for a period of six months to give the Registrant the opportunity to provide information to the reviewing panel that she had gained full insight and that a repetition of her misconduct would be unlikely. The Panel considered that the making of a striking-off order would not be proportionate in all the circumstances given that there was a realistic prospect that the shortcomings being acknowledged and remedied.

While this is a UK case, the decision is a good reminder of the role of Fitness to Practise Committees in upholding professional standards and public confidence in a particular profession.

In Ireland, Social Workers are a regulated profession of CORU, The Health and Social Care Professionals Council.

Click here for a full copy of the decision.