The General Social Care Council has suspended its chief executive Mike Wardle after the discovery of a backlog of more than 200 referrals involving social workers accused of misconduct.
Health secretary Andy Burnham announced the move yesterday after it emerged that 21 of the 203 cases concerned allegations suggesting the public could be at risk.
The build-up of a backlog of complaints and the failure to ensure risk assessments were carried out was “a matter of extreme concern”, Burnham said in a written statement to the House of Commons.
The GSCC is now facing a review to verify its fitness to continue promoting high standards of conduct in England’s social care sector.
The review will be carried out by the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence, which oversees professional healthcare regulators though not the GSCC, and will be completed by the end of September.
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Wardle has been suspended while officials look into the reasons for the backlog. Paul Philip, currently deputy chief executive at the General Medical Council, has been appointed to lead the GSCC on an interim basis.
Burnham sent a team of officials from the Department of Health to review the cases alongside GSCC staff earlier this month to ensure the public’s safety was not at risk.
Of the 21 cases which indicated the public may be at risk if the social workers were allowed to continue practising, Burnham said that either their employers were aware of the allegations against them and were managing the risks, or as far as the GSCC could make out, they were not employed as social workers.
He confirmed that “a small number” of other cases had been identified which were now being investigated.
“Ministers are seeking urgent further assurances that every possible step has now been taken to ensure that none of these individuals present a current risk,” Burnham said.
A GSCC spokesperson said there were 636 current cases of complaints and the backlog of unallocated cases had now been reduced to 134.
GSCC chair Rosie Varley said all cases had now been reviewed and social workers facing serious allegations had been suspended.
Wardle was appointed as chief executive of the GSCC in October 2007. He originally joined the GSCC in 2001 after working in the civil service and as principal private secretary to former education ministers David Blunkett and Estelle Morris.