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High Court uphold decision of Conduct and Competence Committee Panel that social worker’s fitness to practise is impaired and that she ought to be suspended for 12 months.
C, a specialist children’s social worker with over 25 years’ experience, had worked as a family centre practitioner employed by a local authority. She faced 8 allegations before the Conduct and Competence Committee of the Respondent Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) relating to a broad spectrum of failures over a two year period. These included failures to complete management instructions within deadlines, failures to maintain accurate records, and a failure to undertake full and accurate assessments and prepare full and accurate reports. It was also alleged that there had been failure to identify child protection concerns.
C argued at the hearing that she had a physical impairment that her employers were aware of at the relevant time and ought to have made reasonable adjustment for, and, that in the absence of those adjustments, she was unable to work as effectively as her able-bodied colleagues. She further argued that the environment in which she worked was a hostile one.
The Panel found a number of the allegations proven (a small number were admitted) and that her fitness to practice was impaired. The Panel found that C had been appropriately managed and supported and that her actions had put service users at risk.
C appealed that decision, arguing that insufficient regard had been paid to her physical disability, lack of support and the length of time matters had taken to get to a final hearing. She also prayed in aid her 25 year unblemished record. It was further argued that the 12 months suspension was unduly harsh in the circumstances.
The Court considered the approach to be adopted in appeals of this sort, noting that the Panel had had the advantage of hearing from the witnesses and brought to the deliberations their own specialist experience.
It was held that the nature and complexity of the allegations meant that there had been no unreasonable delay in convening the hearing. The Panel had had the advantage of hearing the evidence from C’s supervisors and their cross examination, and had found them to be credible witnesses who had been trying to manage the need to run a busy service, whilst being mindful of C’s disability.
The Panel’s approach could not be faulted; it would clearly have been wrong for them to overlook the two year period in which there had been failures simply because of a 23 year previously unblemished record. It was further held that the decision to impose a period of suspension for 12 months was both well-reasoned and reasonable.
The judgement in this matter is awaited before full comment is made, however this case provides another example of the Courts deferring to the specialist judgment of the professional panel.
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