Eighteen social workers struck off or suspended in England since January

The Health and Care Professions Council has held more than 120 hearings concerning social workers since it took over the register last year. Kirsty McGregor looks at the emerging trends.

Eight social workers have been struck off and 10 suspended since the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) took over responsibility for the register in England nine months ago.

An early analysis of the HCPC’s fitness to practise process suggests that, over time, it may remove proportionately fewer social workers from the register than its predecessor, the General Social Care Council (GSCC). This could be because the HCPC has a wider range of available sanctions at its disposal.

The HCPC has held hearings 124 hearings concerning approximately 65 social workers since August 2012, an average of two to three hearings per week. These included 50 interim order applications, 29 interim order reviews, 16 review hearings (reviewing a previous decision made by the GSCC) and 29 final hearings.

An interim order prevents a social worker from practising or places limits on their practice until their case is heard, if the allegations against them are deemed serious enough. Predictably, there were more interim order applications and reviews than final hearings in the first few months after the HCPC took over. If the panel imposes an interim order, another panel will review it after six months and then every three months after that, so some social workers have been subject to more than one hearing.

Outcomes of final hearings

According to the HCPC’s hearings archive, the first final hearing for a social worker was held on 21 January 2013. Since then there have been a total of 29 final hearings. Of those, a third (34.5%) of the social workers concerned were suspended, just over a quarter (27.6%) were struck off, 27.6% were adjourned or postponed and 10.3% had another outcome, such as a caution or conditions of practice order.

This amounts to proportionately fewer removals than the GSCC in its final full year. Between 1 April 2011 and 31 March 2012, the GSCC removed 38.7% of registrants brought to a final hearing, suspended 27.4% and admonished 24.2%.

This may be because the HCPC has more options available to it, such as the ability to apply a conditions of practice order or voluntary removal order. Only one conditions of practice order has been applied at final hearing stage so far, but three social workers have been allowed to voluntarily remove themselves from the HCPC’s register.

At first glance, there appears to be no significant difference between the types of case heard by the GSCC and the HCPC. Of those removed from the HCPC’s register (not on a voluntary basis), four had received a police caution or been convicted of a criminal offence, one had falsified case records, one lied about their reasons for being absent from work and one had breached professional boundaries in their dealings with a service user.

“It is important for social workers to understand that these figures only account for hearings that have taken place since the transfer in August 2012,” said a spokesperson for the HCPC. “They will change over the course of the year as we continue to review cases that have transferred and any new allegations that we receive. We will publish our fitness to practise annual report in Autumn 2013 and this will provide comprehensive information about the total number of cases, as well as details by profession.”

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