A social worker who left a folder of confidential documents at a service user’s house and failed to tell his local authority has been suspended for six months by the Health and Care Professions’ Council.
A fitness to practise committee concluded that the social worker leaving the documents – which contained the details of twelve families he was working with – at a service users’ house, failing to immediately tell their employer once they realised they were missing, and lying to a service user about finding them was misconduct.
While the social worker had demonstrated “appropriate insight and empathy” in understanding the impact leaving the documents could have on service users, he rejected the allegation of dishonesty.
The incident was discovered after the mother of a child on the social worker’s caseload was contacted by someone in the community who knew some of the details of the case.
It was the council’s policy that data breaches be reported to managers immediately, however the social worker “didn’t think of what had occurred as a data breach”, the judgement said.
The panel added while there was no evidence of “further actual harm suffered” as a result of the actions, the potential consequences of his actions included risk of the information being lost or passed on to third parties.
“Reporting the loss of the folder would have allowed an action plan to be put in place to record the breach and put in place procedures to address it,” the panel said.
During an investigation into the data breach, the social worker spoke to the mother and said the missing folder had been found in his car. The social worker did not actually retrieve the missing folder until days after this conversation, where it was found in another service user’s home.
‘A white lie’
While the panel accepted remediation and insight shown into his actions of leaving the documents and failing to inform his employer, it remained concerned that he hadn’t shown sufficient insight into dishonesty.
He argued lying to the service user about recovering the documents was “a bit of a white lie really to make her feel better”. While he later apologised to her and said it was a big mistake, he insisted it was done “with the best of intentions”.
“In these circumstances the panel considers that there is a risk of repetition of dishonest conduct,” the judgment said.
The panel said it was “regrettable” that they couldn’t discuss the “particular meaning” of dishonesty in fitness to practise proceedings with the registrant in person, however he couldn’t afford to attend the London-based hearing.
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