Social worker used case files to vent anger at IT system

HCPC imposes conditions of practice on an adults social worker who made comments about blockages in the system on service users' records

A social worker who made “inappropriate” entries in case files and allowed another professional unauthorised access to the recording system has been given a conditions of practice order by the HCPC.

The social worker wrote comments on service users’ records expressing her frustration about being unable to move on to the next stage because outdated support plans had been saved as drafts.

The panel at the fitness to practice hearing said it recognised the social worker’s frustrations with the IT system may have been justified and her motivation was to remove ‘blockages’ and work in the best interests of service users.

There was also “significant” evidence of very high caseloads and low morale in the ongoing support and review team she worked in, with a high turnover of agency and management staff leading to a difficult working environment, the panel found.

However, “this did not justify using service users’ electronic records as a forum to express those frustrations” and it classified these communications as misconduct.

The social worker, who had worked for the council for 26 years, made the two case note entries in August 2012.

Comments written in the case files

A great deal of time wasted this morning trying to complete work on a deceased service user. I completed the risk assessment but there is another risk assessment on screen which has been aborted and which needs to be removed from [the system], IN ORDER FOR ME TO PROCEED TO THE NEXT STAGE, that is the Case Conference. I have alerted [the support desk].

Dear, I despair what a terrible system. I tried this morning with person C, to start a safeguarding alert but not possible. Yes if there is problem with draft support plan, cannot proceed with anything else. I want the support plan to be closed, whatever person D is doing, and I need to do my work. Why is the support plan in draft form when this was approved months ago? If you reassign it will have to be finalised once again by manager. I cannot waste more time. I need to amend support plan to include shopping Thanks.

The panel also heard about an incident where the social worker lost her temper with a caretaker at a housing estate office when he refused to help with a furniture delivery to a service user.

The council alleged she had called the member of staff a ‘lazy boy’ and said ‘British people are so lazy’. The panel was unable to find that these phrases had been used but accepted the practitioner had made an inappropriate comment about laziness, serious enough to be misconduct.

It concluded that a social worker of her experience should have been able to manage her emotions and be “capable of appropriate self-control and communication”.

Seven day service

However, the panel threw out other concerns put forward by the council that the practitioner had not responded to a service user’s telephone calls or sent a requested care plan quickly enough.

The care plan in question had been requested on a Thursday. The social worker was off sick the following Monday and sent it recorded delivery on the Tuesday. The panel discounted the service manager’s argument that as it was a seven day service, Saturday and Sunday should be treated as working days. It was not satisfied that this would mean that the registrant would be working seven days a week and considered the timescale had been reasonable.

Confidentiality

The panel also heard that the social worker had allowed an independent mental capacity advocate (IMCA) to sit at her desk to look at a service user’s records, and left the IMCA alone there when she was called away to reception.

Although this was against the council’s data protection guidance, the panel noted that high management turnover meant that in practice, it was common for IMCAs to visit the office if it was impractical to share information another way.

However the panel was concerned by the social worker’s admission during the council’s disciplinary process that she had not considered the confidentiality implications at all and decided that this also amounted to misconduct.

Given that all of the concerns related to a three month period in 26- year career with no other apparent difficulties, the panel decided they could not be categorised as competence issues.

Public confidence

But the practitioner was found to have fallen short of the HCPC standards for social workers and had neither attended the hearing nor provided any evidence she was addressing the problems.

The panel imposed a 12 month conditions of practice order, requiring her to develop a personal development plan addressing self-management, communication and protecting confidentiality.

 

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26 Responses to Social worker used case files to vent anger at IT system

  1. Andy July 18, 2016 at 11:12 am #

    I hate the way you name and shame , work overload causes frustration beyond acceptable levels of working . As a Social worker I feel that naming and shaming Social workers is a immoral device that doubles the punishment already passed .

    • OnlyMe July 18, 2016 at 10:12 pm #

      How have they named and shamed? They have reported on the findings of the HCPC – of interest to all of us in the profession – and have not identified the worker.

    • Imelda July 19, 2016 at 3:54 pm #

      Fully agree Andy!! I think ppl 4get or don’t understand what it’s like 2 hav a high case load and how this negatively impacts on every single area of Ur life, never mind practice. I’m sure I don’t need 2 spell it out in a forum such as this.

  2. Andrew July 18, 2016 at 11:42 am #

    Once again the HCPC puts all the blame on the individual social worker. It comments on numerous system failings but never ever comments that it will be writing to the Senior Managers of the service in question or that it will draw the system failings to the attention of the relevant Inspection body.
    It must be great to be one of those who sit in judgment on social workers and who can honestly say they have never done anything wrong or made a bad judgement call in their professional life.
    If they cannot do that then they should not be sitting on this body making these anonymous judgments.

    • student social worker July 18, 2016 at 8:54 pm #

      Completely agree!!!!!

    • Stuart July 18, 2016 at 9:09 pm #

      You’re absolutely right. It should be possible for social workers to report their managers/employers for creating & operating a situation with such flaws as an IT system that’s not fit for purpose and condoning for it’s own convenience the issue with the IMCAs. The service manager’s vindictive attempt to invoke a seven day working week clause which clearly didn’t exist surely indicates an attempt to create a smoke screen over organisational failings.

  3. Vicky July 18, 2016 at 12:38 pm #

    Totally agree, i think it is dreadful that community care claim to support social workers but articles and features like this is a subliminal warning to professionals that if in the wrong circumstances your community and support will ensure your painted in a bad light another great example community care!

    • Mithran Samuel
      Mithran Samuel July 18, 2016 at 2:40 pm #

      Hi All
      We reported on this case because we felt it raised important issues that social workers more generally should be aware of. The background context in which this social worker was working and the resulting frustrations are likely to be familiar to many practitioners, and we felt that it was of interest to the profession to highlight that such actions as this social worker took because of these frustrations may result in sanction by the HCPC. As usual, with our reporting of fitness to practise hearings, we do not name the social worker concerned to avoid what might be seen as naming and shaming.
      Many thanks,
      Mithran (head of content – adults)

  4. annie July 18, 2016 at 1:02 pm #

    We have all been there and had that frustration about the IT systems but we are registered professionals and need to follow the behaviours expected. We have more professional recognition with registration but with that we are more accountable. The level of sanction appears to reflect the climate and previous good character suggested.

  5. Tom J July 18, 2016 at 2:12 pm #

    Postcode lottery? Please explain- I note that some Local Authorities deal with things internally (e.g. capability procedures), some just refer to HCPC and others go for a double whammy and do both.

  6. Colin Quiller July 18, 2016 at 4:03 pm #

    While the SW’s response may have been less than perfect, the huge frustrations of working in a large, inefficient bureaucracy which often fails clients get to us all sometimes.

    Presumably the team leaders, managers and directors of social services are all absolutely perfect………….. if so, why the problems in the first place!!

  7. Stuart July 18, 2016 at 4:45 pm #

    Could somebody explain which service user was harmed or disadvantaged by the ‘offences’ reporeted. And why it wasn’t enough for the janitor to be given a sincere & heartfelt apology along with some suitable gift of atonement. Followed by the worker’s manager issuing a severe admonishment and keeping a closer eye on both the worker and the pressures she was under and ensuring something productive is done about the IT issues.
    In pre-hcpc/gscc days that’s what would have happened where I used to work and I don’t think the involvement of HCPC (who I pay for) served to produce any better result.

  8. Mand July 18, 2016 at 8:33 pm #

    It does appear that the social worker was very frustrated working with IT issues in a pressurised environment. Once again the HCPC appear to want to lay blame at the social workers door instead of looking at the wider circumstances, organisational and management issues. After working as a social worker for 24 years this sanction does seem very punitive and patronising. Its a shame social workers can’t all be perfect beings who never make any mistakes or never get frustrated but does a person like that exist?

  9. Anon social worker July 18, 2016 at 8:35 pm #

    As social workers we are all under a great day of pressure to complete work in a very timely manner, often hindered by the systems we use. Rather than wasting resources finding a frustrated worker at fault, would it not be better to use those same resources to consider ways to make our difficult jobs slightly easy? Given the huge volumes of people requiring social work interventions, the ever increasing caseloads, and the depleting moral of those workers trying to stay afloat, consideration should be given for the pressure this worker was experiencing and allowances made.

  10. Mel July 18, 2016 at 9:25 pm #

    I do not understand why people are shocked that this social worker has been brought to our attention. We all need to remember that a service user may want to see information held about them and complaining on the case records is unnecessary, unprofessional and irrelevant to the service user. I’m not saying I’d report every poorly judged case record that I have come across to HCPC but we can learn from this person’s errors by thinking about our own day to day professionalism, particularly in records which once locked are permanently a part of a person’s case file. If there is a problem, ring IT, don’t be passive aggressive!

  11. Diane Thorpe July 18, 2016 at 11:15 pm #

    Speechless. No matter how professional we are, the fact is the not fit for purpose systems let us down. Fact. This has just made me realise it is time for me to leave LA social work. HCPC pffff! Have they any idea, or care, how so much more difficult poor systems reduce our emotional resilience.

  12. Anita Singh July 19, 2016 at 12:03 am #

    So what has the HCPC done about the very high caseloads, low morale and high turnover of agency and management staff? Oh of course the petty matter of case recording was far more important than such major issues affecting services users. Has the HCPC decided to bring the managers to a panel hearing for their fitness to practise demonstrated by the very poor standards of management?

  13. Martin July 19, 2016 at 7:45 am #

    Once again hcpc help managers with bullying of social workers. It is clear from the issue of the care plan that the service manager is one who blames social workers for everything and accepts no responsibility for their own failings when creating a overbeurocratic environment. The issue of notes on case file should have been dealt with in house.

  14. Chris Goodhead July 19, 2016 at 8:01 am #

    They just need to make an appropriate space in care plans for grumbles about the IT system.

    You could tick some boxes. Is it (a) Utterly useless in every respect (b) hopeless but particularly bad today (c) Why can’t I type there? That’s where I want to type (d) why are you beeping at me I give up (e) log incident with IT.

    And then have a free text box for additional ranting.

    It could even generate a little budget to pay for pens, paper and rulers.

  15. Julie July 19, 2016 at 9:42 pm #

    Totally agree Vicky “i think it is dreadful that community care claim to support social workers but articles and features like this is a subliminal warning to professionals that if in the wrong circumstances your community and support will ensure your painted in a bad light another great example community care!

    Noted this attitude within articles often

  16. John July 20, 2016 at 3:51 pm #

    I despair at some of the stuff I read about Social Workers and what they have to withstand, at times. How did this get to some form of tribunal and not be handled internally? It is inappropriate to write one’s frustrations in a client’s case notes. I did it once; was reprimanded in private and we moved on. I never did it again and it wasn’t ever mentioned.

  17. Ian Mancor July 20, 2016 at 6:18 pm #

    This case appears to highlight the problems caused by councils sacking clerical staff and expecting social workers to fill the gap? Surely social workers should be spending as much time as possible either working directly with clients or in work that relates to their clients, not in completing mundane clerical tasks.?

    It seems the employer wants it both ways? If there is an expectation that work be completed in a timely fashion, yet this cannot be achieved because the computer system is inadequate or malfunctioning, surely the worker is entitled to record this in the clients notes? If there is a subsequent enquiry as to why actions were not completed, then the reasons have been recorded. The only other way is for the social worker to write a memo to their line managers or raise it in supervision. . How is the worker expected to cover themselves?

    It’s apparent that the hcpc is biased in favour of the employer. Again, there is no criticism of the managers who are ultimately responsible or of central government. It’s their austerity policies that directly lead to cuts in services, unmanageable caseloads and social worker burnout. It’s no wonder this particular social worker felt frustrated.

  18. Peter July 20, 2016 at 6:36 pm #

    I have just a few points to offer;
    1. Social Workers and front line managers must be responsible for creating the user requirements for any new IT system, not third party IT companies or project managers.The system should belong to operational staff and work for them not the other way round.
    2. As a qualified worker who also has experience of IT and Information Governance issues I have always been concerned about the way operational staff tend to view I.G. as mere bureaucracy.
    3. If this case really is a test of what acceptable practice looks like then I would have thought that a significant minority of the colleagues I have worked with could end up before HCPC.

  19. Saskia July 21, 2016 at 5:37 am #

    I have a lot of sympathy for this social worker. As a worker with the same level of experience I have charted the rise of IT systems over the years and share the frustration that can arise from inflexible and often malfunctioning IT systems. When all you want to do is to get on with your job and have to waste precious time on inadequately formatted forms it’s no wonder in the climate this worker was trying to overcome that she vented her anger. I probably would have been tempted to do the same. As a profession we seem to be very poor at supporting front line staff and making issues known to the wider public about the deficiencies in the systems we work in that so impact negatively on the job we were trained to complete

  20. collins July 21, 2016 at 8:25 am #

    I am not a social worker but work in the system. As an ‘outsider’ I cannot understand why anyone was hauled up on disciplinary other than IT. I can’t see what the SW did other than cover herself (with slight frustration) because she had been unable to implement her statutory duty to complete or close case notes. IT is clearly the issue.

    Presumably she didn’t see a confidentiality issue because it was common practice in her office to share notes in this way and in the best interests of the SU.

    All the way through this it was clear to me that she was trying to do her best for the service user and speed up a very slow, bureaucratic system which is not fit for purpose. 26 years of experience and a SW subjected to this humiliating process – I am horrified and cannot imagine what she is going through.

    This system is not right

  21. Mutondo July 21, 2016 at 9:57 am #

    As a student Social Worker, stories like these scare me. It’s almost as if there is zero room for mistakes, regardless of what external factors may have led to you making mistakes…and you are on your own, your mistake, your career on the line.