A social worker who admitted service user confidentiality breaches has not been sanctioned by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) after it accepted the breaches were the fault of inadequate council IT systems.
The senior children’s social worker referred himself to the regulator after Kent County Council began an investigation into his conduct.
A subsequent disciplinary hearing found the social worker had sent 82 emails containing confidential service user information to his own and his wife’s personal email addresses, which the council said constituted “gross misconduct”.
The social worker told the HCPC panel he had sent the emails to enable him to complete reports and assessments on time in a “very highly pressured environment”.
The panel accepted this and evidence from witnesses that a change of IT system and building refurbishments had caused significant disruption to the children in need team over a number of months.
Impressive level of care
He was otherwise a highly effective practitioner who delivered an impressive level of care to his service users, the panel reported.
However, the panel agreed his failure to follow council procedures relating to sending information to personal email addresses could potentially cause harm to service users and damage the reputation of the profession.
The social worker sent emails containing the names of service users and their families, details about cases, court reports, child protection reports, meeting minutes and assessments as well as information from police, education and medical professionals.
But, the panel said, the social worker showed insight and remorse. He had remedied his misconduct by completing further training in data protection and confidentiality. He had also been disciplined by the council which had allowed him to remain a social worker with them, the panel said.
The HCPC has the ability in exceptional circumstances to make a finding of impairment without imposing any sanction.
The panel’s report said: “The registrant is an exceptional and highly valued social worker whose work is of a very high standard. He does not pose a risk to service users—on the contrary, he is a committed and effective social worker.
“The panel was of the view that the public interest would be best served by the registrant continuing to practise without restriction or sanction of any kind.”
A Kent council spokesperson said: “This individual made a significant number of data protection breaches over a period of many months, including passing confidential information to a third party.The council has a secure, remote access system which was available to the worker at this time and the worker’s colleagues did not make equivalent data protection breaches. The worker was subject to a disciplinary process and no longer works for the council.
“The council is concerned that, due to the HCPC process, it has been unable to appropriately comment on some statements made to the HCPC and which the HCPC appears to have relied on in reaching their findings.”