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comments on service users’ records expressing her frustration about being unable to move on to the next stage because outdated support plans had been saved as drafts.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