Student social worker’s sanction reveals inconsistent regulation of the profession

The social workers' union described inconsistent regulation across the UK as "problematic"

A decision to sanction a student social worker by the Scottish regulator has revealed “problematic” inconsistencies in how students are dealt with across the UK, according to the Social Workers Union (SWU).

The Scottish student was employed as an addiction support worker near Glasgow when he gave medication to the wrong person in error.

Medication error

He did not check the date of birth of a resident of the treatment centre, and brought more than one person’s medication into the room at the same time, resulting in an individual known as AA being given medication intended for an individual known as BB.

The student subsequently expressed remorse and regret for his actions, cooperated with the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) and took proactive steps to improve his practice, but is left with a caution on his record.


Lien Watts, assistant general secretary of the SWU, the union arm of the British Association of Social Workers, said: “Social work students in some parts of the UK are required to register with their regulatory bodies while others are not.

“These inconsistencies make it difficult for students to know what is expected of them.”

Future employment chances

She added more work needed to be done to make students aware that, where they are required to register, if they run into trouble during their social work course it could damage their future employment chances.

In Scotland, student social workers have to be registered and so, if they make mistakes on a placement or while working as a support worker during their training, this will affect their record as a social worker. However, the social work regulator in England, the Health and Care Professions Council, does not register or sanction students.

The SSSC in a notice of its decision stated: “Service users have the right to expect that the care and support they receive from social service workers, in whom they place their trust and confidence, will protect them from harm.”

The SSSC said it had sanctioned 16 students in the last financial year. Students make up 2.2 % of the register or 1840 students.

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