The General Social Care Council is overusing its powers to issue temporary bans against social workers who are the subject of complaints in a knee-jerk response to public safety concerns, a lawyer has claimed.
David Dadds, who represents practitioners in GSCC conduct proceedings, spoke out after two tribunal judges criticised the regulator for wrongly issuing interim suspension orders (ISOs).
Two children’s social workers – Elaine Bradshaw, of Hertfordshire Council, and Evan Philip Morkel-Clemens, of West Berkshire Council – were suspended from the register for six months in separate cases in August 2009.
But last month the First Tier Tribunal (see below) found little risk to the public in either case and quashed the orders.
The orders were among 114 issued in the past six months since a backlog of more than 200 conduct cases was reported to the Department of Health last July. However, only 32 social workers in England were issued with ISOs in the 15 months to June 2009.
The backlog led to an investigation of the GSCC’s conduct function by the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence. The results, published three months ago, criticised the GSCC’s slack approach to risk assessment in its handling of conduct referrals. Dadds, of law firm Liddell and Company, said the regulator was over-reacting to public protection concerns.
“The GSCC has had a kick up its backside and now it’s going overboard,” he said. “They appear to be reacting to almost every complaint by applying for interim suspension orders, without exercising proportionality.”
Judge Ian Robertson, in upholding Bradshaw’s appeal, called the GSCC’s power to impose ISOs “draconian”, and said social workers’ right to a fair hearing when threatened with orders was “seriously affected by the limited nature of the decision-making process at this stage”.
A GSCC spokesperson said the number of ISOs had risen as a “result of steps taken to strengthen risk assessment processes”.
The spokesperson added that the regulator was taking legal advice in relation to the two appeals and could not comment.
interim suspension orders explained
Interim suspension orders can be imposed against practitioners to allow officials to investigate complaints where it is in the public interest or necessary to prevent a risk to the public.
Social workers are suspended from the social care register for the duration of the order, which means they cannot practise in the UK.
The orders usually last six months but can be renewed by GSCC committees to allow for lengthy investigations.
Social workers can appeal against ISOs at the First Tier Tribunal, which has the power to overturn them. The GSCC can appeal against First Tier Tribunal decisions to the Upper Tribunal.
➔ Read our in-depth feature on the GSCC conduct system