Social worker suspended for failing service users at risk of suicide and self-harm

Mental health practitioner found to have committed misconduct through deficient practice in relation to 18 service users

Fitness to practise hearing

A mental health social worker has been suspended from the register for one year for failings that included telling a service user he could not discuss his suicidal thoughts with her because she felt ill-equipped to do so.

Michelle Alison Lord also did not record for four days information that a service user was at high risk of self-harm by which time they had taken an overdose of medication, found a Health and Social Care Professions Council conduct and competence committee.

In a third case, concerning a teaching assistant recorded as having previously had erotic thoughts about children and about killing a boy, she did not discuss these thoughts with the service user despite making several visits to him. There was also no record of her contacting any safeguarding children’s professional to discuss the implications of the thoughts, given the man’s role as a teaching assistant.

The committee found the mental health social worker had committed misconduct – and thereby had impaired fitness to practise – through failings in relation to 18 service users from June-November 2011 that created “a real risk of harm” to them.

Other failings included having irregular or insufficient contact with people on her caseload, including, in one case, a lack of contact following a significant personal crisis.

At the time, Lord was employed by Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust as a care co-ordinator in a complex care and treatment team, a role from which she was dismissed last June, following a disciplinary investigation launched in November 2011.

The committee’s conclusions were based on evidence from the trust’s adult social care lead, who conducted the internal investigation, and two social workers who served consecutively as deputy managers of Lord’s team during 2011. All were described as credible and fair witnesses.

In reaching its conclusion, the committee took account of the fact that Lord had been diagnosed with a health condition in March 2011, which had been reflected in the number and complexity of her caseload and in the level of support and supervision she received.

Lord did not attend the hearing nor was she represented at it. The panel said it could thereby not conclude whether her fitness to practise was any less impaired now than it was in 2011, and had no indication whether she had taken any steps to remedy her shotcomings. But it also concluded that her failings were so serious that she had to be removed from the register for a period in any case.

In deciding not to strike her off, the panel noted that she had practised satisfactorily for some years before 2011 and said she should be given a final opportunity to show she should be allowed to return to practice.

This would include providing evidence that she had taken responsibility for her practice failings, evidence relating to factors that might have been affecting her work in 2011 and any steps taken to address the identified shortcomings.


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