A social worker who secretly filmed colleagues for a Channel 4 investigation into child protection has been referred to the HCPC, Community Care has learned.
The social worker went undercover at Birmingham children’s services for a Dispatches documentary screened last month. The programme gave her the pseudonym ‘Vicky’.
Community Care understands the HCPC has received at least one referral urging it to take action over ‘Vicky’s’ use of covert filming for the investigation.
Social workers are required to meet the HCPC’s standards of conduct, performance and ethics. This requires them to be “honest and trustworthy” and “respect confidentiality” in their practice.
An HCPC spokesman said: “We are aware of the recent Dispatches programme and can take fitness to practise action if that is deemed necessary”.
In 2009 a nurse who secretly filmed the neglect of patients for a BBC Panorama programme was struck off for breaching patient confidentiality.
Margaret Haywood’s sanction was later downgraded to a one-year caution order after she won a High Court appeal against the striking off order on the grounds the nursing regulator had to balance her duty to protect patient confidentiality with her duty to raise concerns about poor standards of care.
In 2010 Dispatches broadcast an undercover documentary on Surrey council’s children’s services. The film was billed as an ‘undercover social worker’ but the covert filming was actually obtained by a journalist who was hired by the council as a support worker, so was not a registered care professional.
The Dispatches programme on Birmingham, which featured the footage obtained by ‘Vicky’ has sparked controversy since it aired.
Some social workers said ‘Vicky’ had done social work “a service” by highlighting the working conditions facing child protection teams, but many accused her of undermining the profession by resorting to secret filming.
In her only interview so far, ‘Vicky’ said she decided to get involved with the documentary because Dispatches told her they wanted to change “the discourse away from social workers being the problem towards looking at the environment they work in”. The story of social work being “starved of resources” needed to be told, she added.
After viewing the programme, she said she felt it was “too Birmingham-centric” and did not go into enough details about the resource pressures facing social workers or central government’s role.
Asked what she’d say to social workers who felt she had betrayed the profession by going undercover, ‘Vicky’ said: “I have fought for social work and for social workers my entire social work career. Even whilst in Birmingham I was advocating for my colleagues, many of them recently qualified, who were at times quite badly treated by their then managers.
“People might not agree with my reasons or justification for being part of this, but to say I am against social workers is ridiculous.”
What happens to an HCPC referral?
The HCPC receives thousands of complaints each year. Each one is reviewed to see if it’s a matter the regulator should deal with. If it is, a case is opened. Last year the HCPC opened 1,251 cases relating to social workers.
Each case is weighed up to see whether it meets the regulator’s ‘Standard of acceptance’. The test includes whether the complaint provides credible evidence to suggest that the registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired.
If the case meets the ‘standard of acceptance’ an investigation is opened. Last year 41% of the cases opened on social workers proceeded to an investigation. The registrant is sent the allegation and information gathered and given 28 days to respond with their observations.
An investigating committee panel then considers whether there is a case to answer. The panel meets in private and makes a decision based on paper evidence. The key test here is whether the documentary evidence suggest the allegations amount to a statutory breach, the registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired and the panel is satisfied that there is a realistic possibility of the allegations being proven.
If the committee finds there is a case to answer the complaint proceeds to a fitness to practise hearing. The case is heard by a panel, and evidence taken from the complainant and registrant. At the end of the hearing the panel can decide to take no further action, caution the registrant, make conditions of practice that the registrant must work under or order that the registrant is struck off.
Last year panels ruled on 155 fitness to practise hearings involving social workers. Allegations were found to not be well founded in 36 (23%) of the cases. A fifth (20%) of hearings led to the social worker being suspended, in 15% of cases the registrant was struck off, 18% received a caution and 7% a condition of practice order.