A newly qualified social worker whose caseload struggles saw him failing to maintain complete records and putting service users at potential risk of harm has been suspended from the register for a year.
Nigel Selvin Lloyd Brown qualified as a social worker in 2003, but only registered in 2009 after working as a residential care home manager for several years.
In January 2010, he was employed as a case manager in the London Borough of Brent’s disability learning team. In July the following year, the council became aware of concerns about Brown’s work after he failed to turn up to a Mental Health Tribunal hearing.
A quality assurance audit revealed he was struggling with his caseload and potentially putting service users at risk. After an internal investigation, Brown was dismissed.
A panel of the Health and Care Professions Council’s (HCPC) conduct and competence committee heard that Brown had failed to take immediate action and keep records up-to-date in more than one case during his time at Brent.
Lack of training
In one such case, a support worker had requested that Brown arrange cooking assistance for a 45-year-old service user with mild learning disabilities, memory problems and depression – but nine months passed before the service was provided.
“The service user was clearly put at risk, having regard to both her poor diet and the health and safety dangers associated with cooking,” the HCPC’s panel said.
In another case, Brown was responsible for finding suitable accommodation and arranging support for a 60-year-old service user with a mild learning disability who had been sectioned, but was due to be discharged.
However, Brown failed to attend the Mental Health Tribunal review, forcing it to adjourn until the next available date almost a month later – thereby delaying the discharge.
While accepting personal responsibility for his failings, Brown said his performance and confidence at work had been undermined by a lack of proper induction, training and supervisory management.
He claimed his caseload was higher than it should have been, at around 25 cases. He said he had raised concerns about this, but was told that all of the social workers were in the same position.
He also told the panel that he had missed the Mental Health Tribunal hearing because was stressed at the time and felt overwhelmed. He described his non-attendance as a “cry for help”.
The panel heard from other witnesses that there had been a general problem in the team with prioritising and allocating cases. There was also some evidence that Brown’s line manager was not providing the required standard of supervision.
The panel accepted that Brown was inexperienced and had not received appropriate training and support. However, overall, it took the view that he had “failed to escalate his problems to a more senior member of staff”. And, while he had demonstrated some insight into the seriousness of his action, he had taken no steps to improve his practice or keep up-to-date with social work since his dismissal.
It concluded that a 12-month suspension would protect the public, while giving Brown the opportunity to undertake further training.