The General Social Care Council’s powers to suspend social workers from the social work register for six months while officials investigate complaints against them have been branded “draconian” by a tribunal judge.
Judge Ian Robertson made the comment in overturning an interim suspension order imposed against Elaine Bradshaw, a children’s social work manager at Hertfordshire Council, who had been unable to work in her chosen profession since August 2009.
Bradshaw was working as an assistant team manager in a children’s services assessment team at Hertfordshire Council before being sacked in January 2009, for failing to follow child protection procedures in a case involving a child at risk of abuse.
The council referred the matter to the GSCC on 20 January, but the hearing did not take place until 12 August, when a preliminary proceedings committee suspended Bradshaw from the register for six months due to a public protection risk.
The judge slammed the GSCC for failing to take into account her offer not to work in a child protection role, and for taking seven months to apply for the suspension order after receiving a complaint from Bradshaw’s employer.
Bradshaw ran up significant debts as a result of being unemployed for six months, and was “made to feel like a criminal”, according to an official from the British Association of Social Workers, who represented her at a First Tier Tribunal hearing last month.
In a judgement published this week, Judge Robertson said that although social workers have the right to a hearing when threatened with an ISO, “the efficacy of this is seriously affected by the limited nature of the decision making process at this stage”.
He added: “The power to impose interim suspension orders is draconian.”
No risk to public
Interim suspension orders, which prevent individuals from practising as social workers, can be imposed to allow officials to investigate complaints when allowing the practitioner to continue working would represent a risk to the public. They usually last six months but can be renewed by GSCC committees to allow for lengthy investigations.
The tribunal described the delays in the GSCC’s handling of the case as “totally unacceptable”, adding: “The irony of this case is that the GSCC are guilty of the very failures that the appellant has been suspended for, failure to act upon and apply appropriate procedures.”
The criticism follows a damning review of the GSCC’s conduct function by the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence, published in November, which found a massive backlog of conduct cases was the result of serious management failings.
The tribunal reinstated Bradshaw to the social care register after deciding that the issues in her case were more closely related to capability in a supervisory capacity, rather than public safety.
Bradshaw, who has 22 years experience in social care, successfully appealed against her dismissal in October and was offered a job in independent support services by Hertfordshire Council.
A spokesperson for the GSCC said the regulator was currently considering legal advice regarding the appeal and declined to comment further.