A Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) tribunal has suspended a social worker after she placed an elderly man “at significant risk of harm” by failing to properly assess his needs after his hospital discharge.
The tribunal panel found “no evidence” the social worker, who had 16 years’ experience, had completed a care plan for the man – named as ‘Service User A’ – or informed others about his discharge.
The social worker was barred from practice for six months. She offered an apology for her conduct without making any specific admission as to the particulars of the case against her.
She did not attend the hearing with the panel citing her lack of engagement as a factor in the “limited evidence that she fully appreciates the gravity of her behaviour”.
The tribunal noted the social worker had ongoing health issues – which were discussed in private – but decided there was insufficient evidence these had any bearing on her fitness to practice.
Left home alone
Concerns about the social worker’s practise around Service User A were raised in May 2016 and investigated by a manager at Durham council, where she worked. Unusually, the manager, who was the primary witness in the hearing, could give evidence by telephone after the panel decided this would cause “no injustice”.
The panel heard Service User A, who had painful cellulitis in his legs, affecting his mobility, as well as other medical problems, had been admitted to hospital after a fall.
The social worker visited him twice in hospital during April 2016, prior to his discharge on 4 May. She arranged for an additional care visit but, the tribunal found, failed to consider how he would get his lunch, visit the toilet or otherwise deal with the “long periods he would be home alone”. No authorisation for the care package amendment was sought.
As well as deciding that she had not carried out an adequate assessment, the tribunal found:
- No evidence the social worker had ever completed a care plan following his discharge. The panel noted “Service User A’s GP, his family and the care agency engaged to deliver his care all raised immediate concerns about the inadequacy of the twice daily care visits set in place for him”.
- The social worker had not informed her supervisor or other colleagues about Service User A’s discharge, despite being aware of an expectation to do so. Case management records relating to the period of his discharge were not maintained in a timely manner.
- Service User A’s family were not adequately involved in the assessment process, and information was not shared as it should have been with him or his care agency.
‘Serious departure from expected standards’
The tribunal found the social worker had breached a series of standards relating to working in partnership with service users and carers, accounting for their needs and wishes, reducing the risk of harm and maintaining records.
“The assessment, the care plan, communication and record keeping fell far below what would be proper in the circumstances, and represents a serious departure from the standards expected of a registered social worker,” the HCPC said.
The panel acknowledged there was “no evidence of actual harm to Service User A as a direct consequence of the Registrant’s acts or omissions”. It also cited the practitioner’s long unblemished record and admission of a “major error” in a letter to the HCPC as mitigating factors.
But the social worker’s conduct and behaviour presented “a significant risk of harm, which was unnecessary and avoidable”. It found the social worker’s conduct could have affected other service users as resources were redirected to resolve Service User A’s problems.
In opting to suspend the social worker for six months, the HCPC said the social worker’s failings, which related to a single incident, were capable of remediation. However it said “the Registrant has provided no information that would assist the panel in this regard”.
“The panel took the view that in the absence of sufficient insight and any steps that the Registrant has taken towards remediation, there remains an ongoing risk of repetition which has the potential to place service users at risk of harm.”
The HCPC recommended the social worker attend a review panel in person and provide written evidence of reflection and professional development before returning to practice.