Social work regulator, the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) may be in breach of human rights for bringing fitness to practise cases outside of its remit, it has been claimed.
The HCPC’s sanctioning of social workers for their private conduct, or competency issues caused by poor management, has led to growing concerns in the sector over whether the body is fit for purpose.
Unison national officer Sam Oestreicher said the regulatory body was acting inappropriately in imposing moral judgements on what were effectively private matters. A report from the Law Commission published in April this year raised similar concerns about the way health and care regulators operated.
The report said: “These actions not only undermine the credibility of the profession’s regulation but also fail to have proper regard to article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights [the right to a private life].”
Setting itself up as a “moral police force”
While the HCPC said at the time it welcomed the report, Oestreicher said it did not appear to have taken notice of that aspect of it.
“The HCPC has set itself up as some kind of moral police force, telling people what they can and can’t do in their private lives merely because they are registrants.”
One social worker was suspended for two years for her private conduct, after police were called to her home following a domestic altercation with her partner. The HCPC used the fact she was intoxicated as part of their case against her and did not accept her defence that she was a victim of domestic abuse.
Social worker and qualified lawyer Allan Norman said although regulators had a right to take account of a social worker’s private life, the HCPC had taken it far too far.
“It is impossible and wrong to say nothing you do in you private life has any bearing on your fitness to practise as a social worker, but there is a line. The problem with the HCPC is they frequently behave as though there isn’t a line.”
Quality assurance processes in place
A spokesman for the HCPC said there were a number of processes in place to monitor and assure their work, including the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) which produces an annual audit of judgements and shares learning points with the regulators.
“Our standards of conduct, performance and ethics are clear that you must keep high standards of personal conduct, as well as professional conduct. However if you make informed, reasonable and professional judgements about your practice, with the best interests of your service users as your prime concern, and you can justify your decisions if you are asked to, it is very unlikely that you will not meet our standards.”
The previous regulator, the General Social Care Council (GSCC), was also criticised for intruding into social workers’ private lives, but its decisions were subject to appeal in a first-tier tribunal, the Care Standards Tribunal.
The HCPC’s judgements can only be appealed in the High Court, an expensive route beyond the reach of most social workers.