Social worker suspended for dishonesty after leaving confidential documents at service user’s house

Six-month suspension after leaving documents in a home and then lying about their retrieval

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A social worker who left a folder of confidential documents at a service user’s house and failed to tell his local authority has been suspended for six months by the Health and Care Professions’ Council.

A fitness to practise committee concluded that the social worker leaving the documents – which contained the details of twelve families he was working with – at a service users’ house, failing to immediately tell their employer once they realised they were missing, and lying to a service user about finding them was misconduct.

While the social worker had demonstrated “appropriate insight and empathy” in understanding the impact leaving the documents could have on service users, he rejected the allegation of dishonesty.

The incident was discovered after the mother of a child on the social worker’s caseload was contacted by someone in the community who knew some of the details of the case.

It was the council’s policy that data breaches be reported to managers immediately, however the social worker “didn’t think of what had occurred as a data breach”, the judgement said.

The panel added while there was no evidence of “further actual harm suffered” as a result of the actions, the potential consequences of his actions included risk of the information being lost or passed on to third parties.

“Reporting the loss of the folder would have allowed an action plan to be put in place to record the breach and put in place procedures to address it,” the panel said.

During an investigation into the data breach, the social worker spoke to the mother and said the missing folder had been found in his car. The social worker did not actually retrieve the missing folder until days after this conversation, where it was found in another service user’s home.

‘A white lie’

While the panel accepted remediation and insight shown into his actions of leaving the documents and failing to inform his employer, it remained concerned that he hadn’t shown sufficient insight into dishonesty.

He argued lying to the service user about recovering the documents was “a bit of a white lie really to make her feel better”. While he later apologised to her and said it was a big mistake, he insisted it was done “with the best of intentions”.

“In these circumstances the panel considers that there is a risk of repetition of dishonest conduct,” the judgment said.

The panel said it was “regrettable” that they couldn’t discuss the “particular meaning” of dishonesty in fitness to practise proceedings with the registrant in person, however he couldn’t afford to attend the London-based hearing.

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24 Responses to Social worker suspended for dishonesty after leaving confidential documents at service user’s house

  1. Andrew February 23, 2018 at 10:34 am #

    I note the final point: given the huge income that the HCPC receives from our fees maybe they could hold hearings around he country or pay expenses.

    Better still they could move out of London (cue fainting at HCPC Towers) and relocate to another City.

    By calculations make it that 95175 registered social workers @ £90 pa means an income of £8,565.750 per year to the HCPC.

    Maybe the Chief Social Workers could stand up for social workers and find out what all that money is spent on.

    • Stuart February 23, 2018 at 3:46 pm #

      I am absolutely as horrified about that ‘couldn’t afford to travel to london’ as I am at the suggestion we [the public, for I am one of them as well as being a social worker] need protecting from this worker for only six months.

      Either he is a danger and needs to be permanently excluded from the profession or he made a mistake (or two) and is now going to be even more careful than most of his colleagues about not leaving documents in the wrong place.

      The “risk of repetition of dishonest conduct” is not going to be diminished by waiting six months, or is the suspension intended as a sabre rattling punishment by a bunch on whose wall the writing is written, rather than an actual public protection measure?

    • Amie February 23, 2018 at 6:11 pm #

      I’ve been a witness and they do pay expenses. Will either pay for accommodation or travel upfront or reimburse.

      • Anon February 27, 2018 at 11:55 am #

        I have been called in front of HCPC and was appalled that while witnesses were paid expenses, I was not.
        My employer would not allow me special leave (I didn’t have any annual leave left) and insisted that if I wanted to attend I had to take unpaid leave.
        It was a very expensive trip that I had to pay myself; fortunately my fitness to practice hasn’t been impaired but my self confidence has.
        I agree wholeheartedly that the hearings should be closer to home, to prevent my experience of being isolated from friends and family at a very stressful time.

        • MeMe February 28, 2018 at 2:14 pm #

          Perhaps it will have heightened your empathy for a parent who has to attend a court hearing and have their fitness to practise as a parent scrutinised and cannot even talk to family of frinds about it without breaking the law and risking arrest. #noempathyhere

      • Daisy February 28, 2018 at 2:58 pm #

        They do not pay the expenses for the social worker being investigated, only the expenses for the witnesses giving ‘evidence’ against the social worker.

    • Barton February 25, 2018 at 1:36 pm #

      Hear hear

    • A Man Called Horse March 1, 2018 at 10:40 am #

      The chief social worker is not there to represent Social Workers. You need to understand that Social Workers must be very fearful of HCPC because if you do anything wrong at all, they will kick you out of the profession without a blink of an eye. The only advice I can give to Social Workers is make sure you are a member of a Union that will provide legal support if needed. Without that you are on your own and there is no right of appeal if you are treated badly. They can hang you out to dry and cry.

  2. Chris Sterry February 23, 2018 at 11:12 am #

    While this is a very serious breach of confidentiality are there considerations of the tremendous pressures all social workers are enduring in their working conditions today.

    Workloads need to be reduced, but this is an outcome of the servere cuts social care are having to engage with. The Government needs to be taken to task for the line of no effective social care is fast approaching.

    • Lance T Boil February 24, 2018 at 8:11 am #

      Your comments are frankly out of context. This is nothing to do with pressures or cuts. Perhaps an argument might be made for this simply being a human error.and poor judgement. The former I have sympathy for. The latter less so.

    • John Arthur February 25, 2018 at 1:21 am #

      Agreed, could see how this individual made a mistake while rushing from pillar to post trying to cover huge caseload. Workplace cultures don’t always provide support in the case of honest mistakes. Still unfortunate they were dishonest.

      • Tina February 28, 2018 at 2:21 pm #

        Agree – we’re all human and anyone of us could find ourselves in his shoes. Having made a mistake (although l hope l’d be ‘up front’ about it) l know many who wouldn’t as they live in fear of a hierarchy who dishes out punishment rather than looking at how to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

    • Barton February 25, 2018 at 1:42 pm #

      There appears to be a trend whereby individual practitioners are increasingly scapegoated for unsustainable strain on the system.

      Frankly I think you need to be mad to go into social work these days, and I’ve developed much more sympathy for those swrkers who go off long term sick with stress – it’s a question of survival

  3. Caroline kimber February 24, 2018 at 5:24 am #

    A breach of confidentiality is a breach of confidentiality. I do agree money or work load increase is an excuse. Breaching service users confidentiality is merely unacceptable whatsoever.

  4. Harry February 24, 2018 at 9:17 am #

    Of course this is a serious matter, but referring to HCPC and suspended? This is clearly an unintended mistake. The argument about dishonesty seems to be counting fairies on a pinhead. Humans make mistakes. The important thing is to discover why the mistake was made so that chances of others making the same mistake can be reduced. Dragging this worker, who we can reasonably assume is caring and hardworking, through a professional hearing is just overkill for a human mistake. I can walk into managers offices up and down the UK and see family and child names listed on whiteboards and flip charts as part of performance management. That’s systematic data breaching. The comment about the value and cost of HCPC is worth noting too. You only have to look at the HCPC annual report on their website and the salaries paid to the CEO, the Director of this and the Director of that to see where much of the money goes.

  5. Mary February 24, 2018 at 11:00 am #

    Stop using resources as an excuse for bad practice and serious lack of judgement. This guy lied about a genuine mistake. What else has he or is he prepared to lie about!

  6. Sarah February 25, 2018 at 4:36 am #

    Well said!!!

  7. Sarah February 25, 2018 at 4:38 am #

    Very well said Andrew!!!

  8. Debbie February 25, 2018 at 12:50 pm #

    I don’t understand why he would take the file into another service users house. Does anyone know the the answer to that please?

    • Nick February 28, 2018 at 2:17 pm #

      The most likely reason is that he was out of the office for more than one visit ie coming from or going to another appointment. Clearly it wouldn’t be appropriate to leave files in a car so he had them in a bag. Careless to leave them but understandable, particularly if under pressure. His dishonesty in trying to cover up afterwards, rather than report it immediately is a more serious failing.

  9. Kim February 28, 2018 at 3:07 pm #

    As Social Workers we write in one book and that contains details of lots of visits therefore if we forget the book there is the breach. I am certain that no one would deliberately forget their notes, and human mistakes do happen, its seems to me that the HCPC are super human…… I don’t know why I ever wanted to train to be a Social Worker it is an impossible task and workers are being suspended / struck off / admonished for so many things but not one person is looking at the ridiculously high caseloads and at least double the contracted hours that workers have to work just to scrape the surface. Data breaches are dreadful and serious and lies can never be condoned but when did we stop being human with all our failings? We are not superhuman. I personally cannot work effectively with the threat of the HCPC hanging over my head all the time! Something needs to change before there are no social workers left.

  10. A Man Called Horse March 1, 2018 at 10:43 am #

    The HCPC is not your friend

    • Sw111 March 4, 2018 at 1:45 am #

      We should seriously consider starting a petition against hcpc as the doctors have started against gmc.
      These regulatory bodies to whom we pay so much money what do they do except target social workers, admonish and sanction them rather than taking into consideration the bigger picture of systemic failures.
      Hcpc would do nothing to the management that imposes such working conditions. Why are we paying such regulatory body money to shoot us.

  11. Sw111 March 4, 2018 at 1:46 am #

    Well dishonesty is another factor but it is important to consider the bigger picture also.