The British Association of Social Workers has accused the General Social Care Council of undermining the right to a fair hearing of social workers accused of misconduct.
The professional association said cases that had been “hanging over social workers” for long periods were “being brought summarily to hearings” to consider interim suspensions, with some staff being given insufficient time to obtain adequate representation.
Though the GSCC has been meeting its own requirements to give social workers at least seven days’ notice of preliminary hearings, BASW said officials representing practitioners were sometimes only receiving bundles of case papers two or three working days in advance, reducing their ability to represent social workers.
Backlog sparked Wardle suspension
The accusation comes after the GSCC identified a backlog of 203 cases last month, 21 of which involved potential risk to the public, sparking the suspension of chief executive Mike Wardle and a review of its conduct function by the Commission for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence.
However, BASW chief executive Hilton Dawson said that even before the conduct backlog its advice and representation service’s experience of the GSCC was worse than its experience of the other three UK care councils, in terms of the fairness of the conduct process.
The other regulators are the Scottish Social Services Council, the Care Council for Wales and the Northern Ireland Social Care Council.
‘Human rights must not be violated’
Dawson added: “It’s important that they clear their backlog and they don’t have cases hanging on for a year. What they absolutely mustn’t do is ride roughshod over the human rights of social workers.”
The GSCC’s interim director of regulation, Hilary Lloyd, said that after the backlog had been identified the regulator had taken “immediate action to review and risk assess all cases, applying for suspensions where we considered there were risks to public protection”.
Public protection and fairness
She added: “The acceleration of the progression of these cases is one of a number of new measures we have introduced to ensure we are dealing with all cases as effectively and efficiently as possible, without compromising either public protection or fairness to the social worker.”
She said each referral was now routinely reviewed on the day it was received and an ISO applied for within 48 hours where this was considered necessary, with registrants then given seven days’ notice of the hearing.
The GSCC has already appointed more inspectors to help speed up the conduct process, and Lloyd said it was drawing up wider plans to put its regulatory regime “on a sustainable footing” to deal with increasing numbers of referrals.
Details are likely to be published after the Commission for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence reports, which is expected to be next month.