The General Social Care Council has been strongly criticised by one of its own independent conduct committees for a three-year delay in bringing a case to hearing.
The criticism came in its judgement yesterday in the case of Andrew Forbes McLauchlan, who this week became the first practitioner found guilty of misconduct to escape sanction in the three years since the GSCC’s conduct process began.
The committee said the delay between McLauchlan’s employer, East Sussex Council, referring his case to the GSCC and the hearing was “lamentable” as its investigation had yielded no material that had not been available to East Sussex during an internal disciplinary inquiry in 2005-6.
It said that McLauchlan had had to practice with “the GSCC conduct process hanging over him for the past three years”.
Wardle suspended over conduct backlog
The criticisms come with the GSCC under intense scrutiny over its handling of conduct cases. Chief executive Mike Wardle was suspended last month after it emerged that a backlog of 203 conduct cases had been identified, 21 of which involved potential risk to the public.
Its conduct function is now being reviewed by the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence, which is due to report next month.
Meanwhile, Community Care revealed today that the GSCC took six months to seek the suspension from practice of a social worker accused of sexually assaulting a child, after he had already been acquitted.
A GSCC spokesperson said: “‘As has recently been identified in a review of our conduct function, there were a number of conduct cases that were progressing slowly. That is why we have drawn up plans to deal with the increasing level of referrals we now receive, for example we have appointed more investigators, and recommended areas where our powers need to be strengthened.”
Lied to manager over adoption panel
In the McLauchlan case, the committee found he had lied to his manager in saying he had booked three children’s cases for consideration by an adoption panel in May 2003 and that they had been delayed because the panel was full.
In reality, McLauchlan had not booked the cases on to the panel, which the committee concluded constituted misconduct.
Isolated incident in 25-year career
However, it said this was an isolated incident in a 25-year career and no service user was put at risk or harmed by McLauchlan’s actions, making a sanction unnecessary.
The committee also found that a number of other allegations made against McLauchlan were true, including that he:-
- Did not make sufficiently frequent visits to a child on the child protection register, from December 2002 to May 2003, and to another, looked-after child from July-September 2004.
- Did not maintain a reasonable standard of communication with other professionals or other interested parties in relation to the same looked-after child.
- Wrote a memo to his manager concerning the case of a child that was unprofessional and inappropriate.
- Carried out an assessment of a looked-after child in 2003 was inadequate and late.
- Spent at least three hours surfing websites unrelated to work at his office computer.
However, it said these did not constitute misconduct, but performance management issues. It also accepted that McLauchlan’s lack of visits to and failure to communicate with other professionals in relation to the looked-after child resulted from an unmanageable caseload.
It also noted that McLauchlan had not been prevented from practising as a children and families social worker since 2006 by East Sussex, who had given him a “positive and impressive reference”.