‘Burnt out’ social worker tells HCPC to remove him from register after practice failings

The experienced social worker made the request while he was facing allegations of poor practice

An experienced social worker facing allegations of poor practice asked the HCPC to remove him from the register because he was burnt out and “no longer capable” of doing the job.

The social work regulator investigated claims that the practitioner, who had been in practice for 33 years, had “persistently failed to perform his duties or recorded inaccurate or false information in respect of 21 families”.

He also filled out his timesheets to claim time off in lieu he wasn’t entitled to, and left the majority of his work with families to support workers, the HCPC was told.

‘No longer capable’

However, before a fitness-to-practise hearing took place, the social worker sent a letter to the HCPC requesting to be removed from the register.

He said: “I acknowledge that I am no longer capable of practising as a social worker. The accumulated stress and strains of a career in social care/social work lasting for more than 30 years have taken their toll on me.

“This, combined with the gradual age-related decline in my cognitive abilities, have left me as an example of social work ‘burn out’. I have no intention of ever returning to social work. I am now happily and successfully employed in a field that has no relation so social care/social work.”

The letter was sent in 2014, more than a year after the failings in the social worker’s practice were identified. Despite this, the HCPC said it was “overwhelmingly in the public interest for the case to proceed” and a hearing was held earlier this month.

Abuse of trust

The panel found the social worker made false entries of visits that he had not carried out, and a support worker told the panel he “spoke as though he had conducted visits that had actually been undertaken by her”.

The social worker’s manager felt it was impossible to say whether the practitioner’s actions had caused specific harm to families. But he said foster placements the social worker looked after would have been more effective, and stresses avoided, if duties had been carried out properly.

The panel decided to remove the social worker from the register because he had “shown a willingness to place vulnerable service users at risk and to abuse the trust of his colleagues, sometimes simply for personal benefit or convenience”.

More from Community Care

21 Responses to ‘Burnt out’ social worker tells HCPC to remove him from register after practice failings

  1. Tom Hughes April 20, 2016 at 12:29 pm #

    He left a fair while ago now. Seems his employers were happy to let hm go around being incompetent for quite a long time and now he has new job is quite happy to be struck off.

    Questions have to be asked why, if he was so bad, how come such a dossier of evidence was compiled and no action taken then?

    Either that or someone just wants to settle scores and damage his reputation, safe in the knowledge that he has no desire to defend it

  2. Nell April 20, 2016 at 12:35 pm #

    Like it or not, the HCPC, or other registering body when they finally shunt us off somewhere else, is going to have to face the fact that burn out (which implies that social workers have more control over it than they do) is now an increasing hazard of the job. There may well be examples of poor practice but I can say that having had a blameless career of 33 years, I was starting to recognise that my decision making, energy and accuracy in terms of all I had to remember were suffering. Stress, exhaustion and, yes, the impact of simply growing older, all took their toll. I was suffering panic attacks, sleeplessness, weight loss and a propensity to every virus going. I am not a weak person. I am not incompetent. Social work, lack of funding and resources, the demonisation of the workforce by the media and the constant threat of Ofsted, (which is what they have become), the fashionable ‘blame game’ – all of this left me a nervous wreck and deeply distressed because I have always loved my job, always worked in pressured inner London boroughs, always been very good at my job. I am left feeling lost, marginalised and sad. Where is our support? Advocacy? Indeed what is the contribution of the Civil Servant, Isabelle Trowler who should surely be making top level efforts to ameliorate what is becoming the daily lot of social work staff? I read these reports from the HCPC with far more sympathy and tolerance than I might have done 20 years ago. Spot the difference between now and then.

    • Soupy April 21, 2016 at 5:42 pm #

      I agree about Trowler – she isn’t fire fighting for our profession

  3. Still optimistic April 20, 2016 at 1:12 pm #

    How sad that after a long career in social work he couldn’t approach his manager to tell them how he felt or and probably more importantly, his managers did not recognise the deterioration in his work. I can imagine there was lots of covert gossiping about his failings and yet no one thought to actually raise it in the correct way. I have been doing this job for 20 years and it’s not a job it’s a vocation, you do have to want to go the extra mile as you are working with vulnerable people in a system that constantly changes and rarely has enough money or resources to support prevention of abuse. You really do have to look after yourself and I feel saddened that this man lost his way in social work. Hope he enjoys his new job.

  4. Milo April 20, 2016 at 2:32 pm #

    Sounds a bit like the hcpc were annoyed that he didn’t even want to be a social worker anymore.

    • Ebbo April 20, 2016 at 7:47 pm #

      Has anyone thought these fraudulent actions were as a consequence of the massive case loads and increased expectation that you manage the unmanageable workload otherwise your seen as bad social worker. Yes people lose some of their faculties as they get older but surely working under such conditions exacerbates this aspect of getting older. Shocking that people think they’re no longer fit for purpose because they can’t remember some of the millions of things we’re expected to remember. Sad times

    • Carl April 20, 2016 at 9:22 pm #

      Does not sound much like burn out, more like deliberate deceit in recording. The ‘burn out ‘ sounds like a ploy to avoid taking responsibility for deliberate malpractice.

      • Ian kemp April 21, 2016 at 2:54 pm #

        Carl After over 42 years in all forms of social work I can tell you that the way social work is organised does not help believe me.
        cheers’ Ian

  5. Phill Wheatley April 20, 2016 at 6:15 pm #

    BASW’s recent professional journal of social work cited the average professional life of a social worker t 7.7 years, 8 for a professional footballer and in the army, 10 years.

    Recent survey suggests over 40’s should be doing a 3 day week…

    If you’ve been a social worker for more than 8 years, are over 40 and it’s getting to you, start retraining to do something else would be my advice…

    • karen May 3, 2016 at 12:14 pm #

      Yep, Great idea! Put the mortgage payments on hold or don’t pay the rent… Let the kids stay home alone… Apply for a loan to pay for the training… Eat now and then…. Cancel Xmas… – Other option is to continue as a Social Worker and spend the evenings and week-ends doing online training… mmmm….. Not as easy for everyone as PW’s post would suggest.

  6. mrm April 20, 2016 at 8:01 pm #

    I would just say duty of care. Employers have a duty of care and if this social worker got into such a state then the failings have to also be attributed to the employer, not solely the social worker, and hcpc need to recognise this and put sanctions on employers not just the employee. Thus perhaps a letter to government to raise the issue is called for?…

  7. Ian kemp April 20, 2016 at 8:27 pm #

    I can quite understand what the social worker was saying . I spent over 42 years as social worker in various roles from Team manger senior social worker social worker in regular social work then after retirement nearly 20 years as a locum social worker senior social worker for over 20 local authorities / NHs….. Social work is really no longer a profession .It is largely a operative job in local authority…. There is very little support or understanding .The job has become obsessed with budgets the latest computer programme.. There is managerial hierarchy that has grown out of all proportion to what is really useful . The job has now become mainly about control of client’s and staff eg social workers . It bares no relationship to the social work I stated in as a graduate all those years ago… Ok society / neoliberalism has changed the face of what values social work had .Its not really client centred any more. Its about the purchaser provider split . budgets as I have said . Some people thrive in that environment . Others possibly more sensitive do not .
    There are no social work departments any more with professionals at the top … Almost anybody can be a manager with the right attitude and be paid a lot of money. Local authority and incrementalism dominate . Social work is a very small cog in what is a huge bureaucracy… Lots of people who I knew left social work years ago, because they could tolerate what they were experiencing. I am not surprised at the social worker left. Why the Hcpc bothered . Perhaps they should have tried to address the problem in a more constructive sensitive way,,. After all he had spent over 30 years on the job. Burnout is a complex emotion . That should be recognised . But unfortunately that does not suit the blame culture that is Local authority and indeed social work today .

    • John Gatling April 24, 2016 at 10:48 pm #

      Hi Ian
      I very much relate to what you and others say about burnout related to job dissatisfaction. I feel very marginalised where I work as no-one is talking about the changes I think I see – privatisation, cut backs, bureaucracy gone mad, language of person centred this and that which just seems insidious empty rhetoric. Spending 30+ hours in front of a computer screen is soul destroying
      cheers John

  8. Emma April 20, 2016 at 8:37 pm #

    Oh come on. Burnout is real and whilst I empathise with anyone and everyone who is feeling burnt out, we also have to recognise that we have a responsibility ourselves to recognise that and do something about it. If you feel yourself that you can no longer do the job, do everyone a favour and stop taking taxpayers money under false pretences, thereby leaving vulnerable people at risk.

    The part that I am really struggling with though, is the part where this person is claiming that he falsified his hours and entered inaccurate or false information on service users’ records. Inaccurate, I can see, but false information? There is no part of burnout that makes you lie about the job you are doing. That is quite simply dishonesty.

    • Ian Kemp April 22, 2016 at 9:42 am #

      Emma not sure what you are saying .. When one is under considerable stress ones judgement becomes compromised . that is part of burn out … one tries to cope . then one becomes desperate makes errors of judgement and so on . The organisation of social work is deeply problematic to say the least. It is not supportive nor compassionate. It is what I call bureaucratic fascism.

    • John Gatling April 24, 2016 at 10:57 pm #

      Emma, yes of course what he did is wrong and I don’t know the person to make a specific judgement in this case as to mitigating circumstances. More generally its difficult….I’m 54 and have given 30 years of my life for social work..other options aren’t necessarily easy. I’ve experienced gross bullying in one work place – the effects of which never go away. These things take their toll. A lot of people who feel they ” cant do their job” probably can do their job but at a cost.
      I dont wish it on anyone but It may happen to you too Emma

      • Ian Kemp April 26, 2016 at 9:45 am #

        Hi John . I guess I was lucky I saw the best of Social work and what it could have been . I am now finished with it ..
        Social work is to much about power and control. This suits some personalities who thrive in that kind of environment I saw a lot of bullying and power games being played out . pointless suspension’s .bureaucratic disciplinary processes . All this was done in the name a kind of pseudo professional agenda,. There little concern or humanity involved. Compassion understanding did not exist . All that appeared to matter was that some manager / bureaucrat had his/ her day, regardless of the consequences to the person involved. Believe me it is not unusual from what I experienced in the many years that I was at the coal face. It was so different when I started all those years ago. I do not think that today I would consider a job in social work. It would not fit with my philosophy and values..it is difficult for those who are in their later years in the job. What can they do with all of their commitments./? I met many in that position . For those who have just started , it is difficult to advise. I saw many young social workers who were finding it difficult to cope. Unsympathetic management large impossible case loads . Increasing levels of sickness.
        The political climate makes it very difficult to campaign for change. As I say there are no social work departments. In many ways social work has been DE professionalised.
        Maybe social work should be funded separately away from the local authority bureaucracy that it has been absorbed into. There are massive problems with the way it is organised at present. Politically there is no motivation to do anything about it accept to just muddle along .I am very pessimistic that politicians even if they understand what is happening what to touch it.
        Do not get me wrong there are many things that could make social work a proper respected profession. What I do know is that the massive bureaucratisation that is local authority is not one of them .. Good luck to those who battle on
        Cheers Ian

  9. Mary Harris April 21, 2016 at 8:06 am #

    We will continue to hear more and more stories about Social Work burn out. The question is, how long can this go on before somebody does something about it. How is it acceptable for Social Workers to carry a heavy case load which sometimes involves high risk cases and that seems okay until something bad happens either Social Worker makes a mistake or a Child/Adult die. Surely the heavy work load around Social Workers has been going on for a very long time shouldn’t the government do something about it. I suggest support Social Work as a profession, show respect towards people who are doing the job/invest more money and better education in Social Work. On going training for those practicing and professionals supervision from those who understand and know of the profession. Offer better training for those already in practice and make it a continues thing not just a one off. Newly qualified Social Workers should be protected from high risk case loads and in order for this to happen, the government need to take on board what is happening and do something to improve the profession . That been said it does not take away the fact that if a Social Worker is not fit to practice they should be dealt with in a professionals manner and the managers of those Social Workers should answers questions and explain how they supported that individual.

  10. Ian kemp April 21, 2016 at 3:12 pm #

    Yes Mary I agree . At one point as a Locum social worker I worked in a acuter mental health team . Within 2 weeks I had 38 cases . Everybody was stressed . Management did not seem to care. People went off sick . I was told Ian you are highly experienced can you take this and that .. I was lucky I knew that my contract was limited so there was a way out soon . I did fear that something might happen with one of my acute cases that I did not have time to address,. ….. So if I was in situation where I could not escape and this was persistent… would my judgement then become flawed and compromised . ? Stress causes all sorts of misjudgements . As I have argued the whole of social work organisation is flawed .Politically nobody will touch it because of the implications and at least initially the costs . So there will be further errors burn out . Senior staff will say things like we will learn lessons so on .. so it will continue to go on .

    • Joe April 21, 2016 at 7:48 pm #

      After 12 years in frontline child protection I have finally decided to ‘opt out’. It’s no longer about achieving the best outcomes for the children and their families. I just receive instructions about costs to the LA for late filing dates to court when trying to manage case loads of over 40 children!

  11. Andrea April 21, 2016 at 4:29 pm #

    Nell – Isabelle Trowler is a Govt employee………………?!!
    Emma – you have a point.