The Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence has made 20 recommendations in its report into the General Social Care Council’s conduct function, ordered by the Department of Health after a backlog of around 200 unallocated cases was discovered earlier this year.
The report uncovered serious failings in three main areas: a lack of scrutiny; the quality of information provided to committees; and the standard of risk assessments.
Here we set out the GSCC’s progress in strengthening its department so far, and what still needs to be done.
• Case management system: The GSCC should have a single facility in place to log cases, establish deadlines and measure progress, so managers can oversee caseloads.
• Fitness to practise: The GSCC and DH should replace the conduct system with a “fitness to practise” regime.
• Sanctions: The conduct committee has a relatively limited range of sanctions available to it: to take no action, admonishment, suspension or removal from the register. The conduct committee should also have the power to impose conditions.
• Threshold of referrals: The GSCC should adopt a lower threshold of referral of cases. This would be easier if conditions could be imposed as a sanction.
• Risk assessment: All new cases need to be risk assessed as a matter of priority and a decision made on whether they need to be referred for an interim suspension order.
• Employers: The Government should give the GSCC power to require employers to provide information or concerns about a social worker’s fitness to practise.
• Registration fees: The GSCC should become more financially independent of government. This model will require a more efficient GSCC and an increase in registration fees for social workers.
• Operational structure: The two geographically distinct teams (in Rugby and London) and external investigators should be managed and operated as a single team.
• Appeals: Appeals against decisions made by the conduct committee should be heard by the High Court rather than the Care Standards Tribunal.
Progress so far
The GSCC has already put in place a case management system and lowered the threshold of referral for conduct cases. It also now ensures all cases are risk assessed within 24 hours, and all interim suspension orders are imposed within 48 hours if there is a clear risk to the public.
For the bigger changes, a long-term recovery plan has been developed and is under discussion with the DH. As part of this, the GSCC will look at its organisational structure, and develop key performance indicators to measure outcomes.
In the interim, the GSCC is providing the DH and the Department for Children, Schools and Families with weekly performance reports. Staff have weekly one-to-one sessions with managers, and the two geographically distinct teams are being managed as one until the structure can be reviewed.