Tribunal reduces ban for social worker found growing cannabis

A panel rules that the General Social Care Council did not take account of the social worker's mental health at the time of her conduct hearing and handed down a disproportionate sanction

A social worker who was suspended from practice for two years after cannabis was discovered growing in her house has won an appeal against the length of her ban and will be allowed to return to work after only seven months.

Jennifer Brownbill’s neighbours complained to the police in October 2010 about a strong smell of cannabis coming from her house. Brownbill was later arrested trying to dispose of cannabis plants at a council tip; the police searched her home and found equipment used for cultivating the drug.

The social worker was interviewed and admitted growing the cannabis for her own use. She received a caution in December 2010 from the West Yorkshire Police.

Brownbill later told the General Social Care Council’s (GSCC) conduct committee that it was her son who had been growing cannabis at the house and she had accepted the caution in order to protect him.

She acknowledged that her behaviour called into question her suitability to remain on the social care register. The committee decided to suspend her registration for two years from 30 March 2012.

In deciding on an appropriate sanction, the committee noted that Brownbill had displayed limited remorse and insight, suggesting she had some “deep-seated attitudinal problems”.

But Brownbill appealed to the First-tier (Care Standards) Tribunal, claiming a two-year suspension was disproportionate. She argued that her mental health at the time of the GSCC’s hearing had affected her behaviour, in turn skewing the committee’s decision.

The tribunal panel, led by Judge Nancy Hillier, agreed that it seemed the GSCC’s conduct committee had not fully taken into account the impact of Brownbill’s mental health on her behaviour during the hearing. 

“It is unfortunate that the conduct committee was not made more explicitly aware of Ms Brownbill’s mental health condition, as her apparent attitude clearly affected their reasoning,” the panel said, adding that the social worker was now showing “significant insight” into her behaviour and its potential effect on others.

The panel concluded: “Having weighed into the balance the remorse and insight demonstrated by Ms Brownbill, the fact that her demeanour can be affected by her mental health and the fact that in a lengthy career no other issue of dishonesty or substance abuse has been suggested we have decided that a suspension of two years is disproportionate.”

Brownbill will therefore be allowed to return to work in November 2012.

The GSCC has now closed.

Read the Care Standards Tribunal’s report on the case

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