New fitness to practise process could threaten social workers’ human rights, professional body warns

Nagalro says proposals for regulator to be able to make interim orders without hearing could breach rights to fair and public hearing

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Changes to the way fitness to practise complaints are handled under Social Work England could result in social workers having their human rights breached, a professional body has warned.

Nagalro, the professional association for family court advisers, children’s guardians and independent social workers, said the new process of allowing people analysing a fitness to practise complaint to impose interim orders on a social worker breaches Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which guarantees people the right to a fair and public hearing.

The draft regulation proposals state that if two or more case examiners decide it is likely for Social Work England to determine a social worker’s fitness to practise is impaired, they can “make any interim order they consider is necessary for the protection of the public or in the best interests of the social worker”.

Case examiners would not be able to make an interim order without informing the social worker and giving them an opportunity to make written or oral submissions on the matter, the proposals say.

Under the current system, regulated by the Health and Care Professions’ Council, if it is believed a social worker should be suspended or restricted from work until a formal disciplinary proceeding can take place, an urgent hearing in front of a disciplinary tribunal can be convened.

An interim order being placed by a case examiner would only occur if the social worker in question refused the option to have the case disposed without a hearing, in which case they would have accepted their fitness to practise was impaired, and an examiner’s proposed order would be imposed.

Appeal process ‘expensive and complex’

The social worker would be able to appeal an interim order to the High Court, but Nagalro said it would be “expensive and complex”.

“Even if the appeal were successful, a social worker’s career may have already been destroyed before they have been formally charged with any wrong-doing, let alone convicted,” Nagalro said.

“Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which is part of UK law, guarantees everyone a ‘fair and public hearing’ before ‘an independent and impartial tribunal’.

“Nagalro does not believe that these proposals comply with the requirements of the Human Rights Act, or indeed the principles of natural justice which have been part of English law for many hundreds of years,” it added.

The organisation also criticised the idea the regulator would be “at arm’s length from government”, as it argued “sections 37 to 44 of the [Children and Social Work Act] make it clear that the secretary of state for education will have the ability to control almost everything the regulator seeks to do”.

The government is currently consulting on the proposals in the draft legislative framework for Social Work England. The consultation closes on 21 March 2018.

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15 Responses to New fitness to practise process could threaten social workers’ human rights, professional body warns

  1. Jim Greer February 23, 2018 at 12:25 am #

    I currently serve as a social work panel member on HCPCTS Fitness to Practise Hearings. I am very proud of this work because I consider that the process fulfills the purpose of public protection while ensuring that social workers are not unjustly or unfairly deprived of their ability to work and earn a living. The training and support and legal guidance which are given to panel members is exemplary. It will be very costly and difficult to create a comparable set of processes and assemble the necessary expertise for social work alone from the ground up. The HCPC was already well established as a regulator before it took on social work.
    An additional feature of the HCPCTS is that it is a cross-disciplinary service. This gives additional confidence to the public that the social workers are not simply setting their own standards of conduct. It also gives social workers confidence that they are not being singled out and treated unfairly relative to other comparable professions.
    It will be very costly and difficult to create a comparable set of processes and assemble the necessary expertise for social work alone from the ground up. The HCPC was already well established as a regulator before it took on social work. The proposals being discussed in this article are suggestive either of denying justice for the sake of expediency or cost cutting or both.
    At present the Government is seeking to reduce the number of regulators and amalgamate processes to improve efficiency and reduce costs. In every other profession apart from social work the direction of travel is to bring regulation together under a smaller number of bodies.
    It seems very unusual therefore to be setting up a new regulator for one profession in one part of the UK- especially at a time of austerity and major challenges facing the UK economy.

    • Bn February 23, 2018 at 12:02 pm #

      Middle age, white and wishes ro retire in Cornwall right? It’s a kangaroo court. Doctors back eachother the death. In SW if you fart yoy get suspended. Hence nobody respect the social.

      • C C February 23, 2018 at 8:44 pm #

        So true

    • North West February 23, 2018 at 3:36 pm #

      Thank you for writing as a representative of the HCPC, can you explain why the HCPC seems to hold more tribunals / processes than other agencies and why it doesn’t push many basic issues back to the LA that should have been dealt with internally. Why also does the HCPC not look to the chaiin of responsibility rather than only the individual who has been hauled before them. l do not want bad practise, but it doesnt feel the HCPC is managing this, rather it is cherrypicking the cases that are easy to pick of because they are individuals so easy targets. This will not improve poor practice overall as much of this at the moment is related to stress, burnout, lack of concentration due to overwork and having too many high priority tasks to do immediatly with no resources or staff. All of these are being deliberatly and politically managed to create a blame the individual style culture whilst the real culprits walk away – usually into another LA on a high paid ‘consultancy role’ or senior management position to re work old, tired policies that havent worked for the last LA but have been deemed successful because they in effect assest striped the department of staff by not recruiting vacant posts and forcing redundancies or the loss of benefits to workers saving some money along the way but losing the value of the role and its repsonsibilities.

      • The Voice Of Reason March 5, 2018 at 12:44 pm #

        Here, Here! Totally and utterly agree 100% with you! It appears that over the years the UK has developed a sort of “We hate Social Workers and want to bash them!” culture, resulting in the situation we now have, where the profession is under pressure, under funded, and treated like dirt. This is fuelled in various parts:

        By media scare stories (e.g. newspapers like the Sun and Daily Mail which ran stories penned by people who were very much anti-Social Work, such as the bedreaded and reviled phone-hacker Rebecca Brooks and her cronies), or by inaccurate and unpleasant portrayals of social Workers as “baby stealers” in programmes like “Eastenders”.

        By public ignorance of what Social Workers actually do (mostly caused as a direct result of the above).

        By ill-thought-out government cuts and policies, a lot of which have been rapidly brought in due to “austerity”. Ought we not to be remembering that it was BANKERS and people in the HOUSING MARKET who lead to the financial recession because of irresponsible practices such a hyper-inflating house prices, or sitting on building land just to see its value go up, NOT Public Sector employees like Social Workers. Alas, it is the Public Sector who have PAID for the financial crisis, with cuts to wages, cuts to funding, service reductions, short-staffing, etc.

        By regulatory bodies, who do not seem to recognise or care about the immense strain that Public Sector workers are placed under due to “austerity” cuts. HOW does anyone expect a person to work in appalling, underfunded, under-resourced, and sometimes short-staffed conditions? HOW does a person hold an ever-growing and complex caseload whilst coping perhaps with “hot-desking” and service cuts?

        By other professions (e.g. Nursing or Medicine) which gang up against Social Workers when something appears to go wrong, or when a case gets tricky and questions are asked. NHS staff tend to band together during investigations to support each-other and to provide (sometimes false) alibis for each-other. Issues like this could clearly be seen in the Harold Shipman case, in the “Baby P” and “Climbie” cases, where it was clear that NHS and Police staff were at fault, but who evaded responsibility. Because Social Work is a separate profession, it is all too easy to isolate and scapegoat its members when something bad happens.

        Social Workers have been “bashed” for far too long.

        • Maggie S March 18, 2018 at 4:36 pm #

          Do you ask yourself why social workers get ‘bashed’? Perhaps it is because SW has now got a ‘name’ for not doing the job well enough to see progress for the client? If you have a ‘siege mentality’ you should not be in the job. In particular too many children are losing out, through inaccurate decision making or lack of appropriate action. Skilling, appears to need an urgent upgrade. This concerns all SW’s and their management hierarchies.

  2. Katie Politico February 23, 2018 at 9:32 am #

    It’s all part of the preparations to privatise. Holding individual social workers to account rather than the LAs that employ them, which would include removing the context of mistakes, like high caseloads, leaves the private provider free to maximise profit. Social workers will be commodities from which to extract profit. The same is happening for children and families, for example the removal of IROs and permanence panels proposed in the fostering stocktake removes costly but necessary accountability thus commodifying vulnerable children and making them more profitable. Social work is unrecognisable and needs to be renamed.

    • Stuart February 23, 2018 at 3:37 pm #

      Totally agree Katie, best re-train in homeopathic foot massage I think.

  3. Right to Roam February 28, 2018 at 3:49 pm #

    Well said BN. Don’t fart whatever you do, but your manager and their managers can and smell of roses, while for you poor social worker you will publicly humiliated, stripped of all integrity done out of a living albeit poorly paid. just so the HCPC can justify their own vile smelling farts.

    Get rid of them, they have brought nothing but fear and misery to social workers who work dammed hard to get the best for their service users (criminality being the exception) but are treated appallingly are forced to work long hours for no extra pay, expected to neglect their own children and families while their managers are protected from punishment for exploitation, slavery and abuse.

    So, social workers be careful where you fart.

  4. BN February 28, 2018 at 3:52 pm #

    This research spaks it all .

    HCPC not addresing issues in systemic manner and confirming to what most LA s do to hide their systemic failures by scapegoating individual social worker. Tis is the compilation of 6 stories where the concerns were about the organisation and how social workers were scapegoated by their organisation and HCPC in it’s process of inquiry reinforced this scapegoaing.

    HCPC lacks the systemic understanding and works against it’s own principlaes of practice in the context of organisation.

  5. BN February 28, 2018 at 5:06 pm #

    This is the link to the reasearch that I mentioned in the earlier post.

    • Right to Roam March 2, 2018 at 7:40 am #

      Yes BN I am more than familiar with the piece of research I was part of it.

  6. Right to Roam February 28, 2018 at 5:26 pm #

    I was one of the 6

  7. Sw111 March 4, 2018 at 12:18 am #

    Yes BN and Right to Roam. I completely agree with you. HCPC process of fitness to practice is punitive, they single out social workers the ones who are running around and have to face the challenges of organisational/management failures. I know a lot of workers who are experiencing financial difficulties because of the incompetency of hcpc, is this how they are raising profile of social workers, flagging their professionalism. Shame on hcpc who support organisational failures and bullying managements and penalise social workers.

  8. frustrated March 9, 2018 at 9:15 pm #

    Jim Gear
    what do you say now in response to the other comments. Has it given you food for thought?