The General Social Care Council is considering introducing a broader range of sanctions against social workers found guilty of misconduct.
It is also looking into changing the legislation covering the conduct system to allow it to add extra sanctions such as conditions of practice orders.
Regulators such as the General Medical Council have powers to impose such conditions on doctors, which could, for example, prevent them from examining patients on their own.
The GSCC may also look into adding recommendations to suspension orders. In its review into the conduct system, published this week, the GSCC says committee members have rarely used suspension because it offers no opportunity to review the social worker’s ‘rehabilitation’ once the period has ended.
Social workers suspended from practice are free to return to employment without having to demonstrate they have addressed the issues responsible for their misconduct.
Suspension has been imposed in just three of the 33 completed cases heard between April 2006, when the hearings system began, and March 2008. The most commonly-used sanction is admonishment, which was used in 16 cases, while 14 social workers were struck off the register.
Ian Johnston (pictured), chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers, said: “BASW has always been opposed to sanctions which might constitute some sort of punishment and it would be difficult to see a suspension without any conditions as anything other than suspension punishment through loss of livelihood. The possibility of imposing some conditions during a period of suspension would seem therefore desirable.”
Harry Cayton, chief executive of the Council for Regulatory Healthcare Excellence, which oversees professional regulators in healthcare, said: “Suspensions should be subject to review. A registrant should only be returned to the register where the regulator is convinced the individual is fit to resume practice. Review hearings should be able to see evidence of when a suspension is reviewed.”
He added: “For many health professionals, carefully-worded conditions can be more useful than suspension in protecting the public.”
Neil Grant, a lawyer with Bevan Brittain, which has handled a number of cases for the GSCC, also backed giving conduct committees the power to require a rehearing before a suspension came to an end and to add conditions onto a social worker’s registration. He said: “Our experience of conduct hearings before the GSCC has been positive. However, it is important that a modern regulator has all the necessary tools at their disposal to deal with a wide variety of scenarios that arise.”
Community Care also commissioned a study on on conduct which found that few staff refer bad practice to the General Social Care Council. Read more about this report.
Coming Soon: Listen to Community Care’s interview with Robin Weekes, the GSCC’s head of conduct
Social care register: 30 practitioners refused on health grounds
Raising standards: Social work conduct in England 2003-08