Social worker suspended over breach of confidentiality

Practitioner left 82 confidential documents in an unlocked locker, finds conduct panel

A social worker has been suspended after she kept 82 confidential documents in an unlocked locker.

The social worker was also found by an Health and Care Professions Council conduct and competence committee panel to have failed to undertake “crucial assessments and complete records adequately in order to ensure service users and the public were appropriately protected from harm”.

The panel concluded she had “breached a fundamental tenet of the social work profession”.

“She also failed to take timely action and breached the right of service users to confidentiality,” the panel added. “Significant risk of harm was caused to service users, and the public in general by these breaches because, given the standard of record keeping and the methods of used to keep records, service providers had insufficient and inaccurate information upon which to base decisions for the provision of safe and effective care, in order to protect service users and the wider public from harm.”

‘Lacking in credibility’

The social worker admitted that confidential documents had been found in an unlocked locker, but disputed that she “kept” the documents there.

She said she did not know how the files got there. However the panel found her explanations “lacking in credibility”.

She suggested the documents may have been placed there during an office move when she was off sick.

“However, upon closer enquiry, it became clear that the office move took place in 2012, approximately one year before the documents  were found. During the intervening period, the registrant had had extensive and exclusive use of the locker herself.

“Indeed the documents were found amongst her own personal effects. In these circumstances, the panel determined that the only plausible explanation was that the registrant had placed the documents into her locker herself and had kept them there.”

The panel also criticised a “wholly inadequate” reference to a service user’s mental capacity in a care plan.

“At this stage the service user was known to have some level of dementia. These matters required explanation in the care plan, for example, under the section entitled ‘Physical and Mental Health’.”


The social worker explained there were “contributing factors” to the failings identified, and she expressed remorse for the failings.

“During the relevant period she had to address a number of domestic and family matters. After a period of leave, she then returned to work full time to an increased and challenging caseload.”

She started a university course to qualify as an approved mental health professional, but did not have her caseload reduced as she had expected it to be.

“The registrant highlighted a number of significant personal difficulties and challenges, including matters of health. The combination of these factors, the registrant believed, led directly to her failing behind at work.”

She accepted that she failed to recognise her ill health was having an impact on her work.

“She is clearly a very caring individual and she said she was appalled at how bad she let things get and would not let it happen again. Whilst she had not thought specifically about a return to social work she did not rule out a return to it in the future,” the panel said.

Misconduct, not lack of competence

It concluded that she did not lack competence,  but had been guilty of misconduct.

It said she had not demonstrated “adequate recognition and insight into her shortcomings”, and she continued to assert her assessments and record keeping were adequate when they were not.

The panel said it was still possible for her to return to practice, and concluded a 12-month suspension order was the right sanction.

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