‘Overwhelmed’ social worker sanctioned for failings following service restructure

Social worker failings breached code of conduct amid restructure which caused increased workloads and team volatility

Picture: Blend images/Rex/Shutterstock

A social worker who became “overwhelmed by the workload” following a service restructure has been sanctioned by the Health and Care Professions’ Council (HCPC) after failing to update records, carry out safeguarding procedures and giving incorrect advice to another social worker.

The social work manager struggled with a service restructure which caused “great upheaval”, volatility in his team causing a reliance on agency staff and an increased workload due to extra measures required to implement the Care Act, such as reviewing a high number of cases.

After the allegations of failings had been made against him, he was suspended from the council, and resigned from his post several months later and has not worked as a social worker since.

The panel said his failings had breached codes of conduct, including the need to keep accurate records, act in the best interest of service users and of the need for social workers to know the limits of their practice and manage their own workload.

The panel said he had opportunities to get support and did not do so, and he did not express concerns about his workload during supervision.

‘Unusual confluence of events’

Despite the failings and the social worker not engaging in the hearing process, it concluded a caution order would be appropriate due to the “unusual confluence of events existing at the time” making it unlikely he would repeat the failings.

In his favour, the panel found the social worker had a previously unblemished 26-year career, was relatively new to his management role, and had been subject to an “extensive workload”, which not only included his own but the “additional 200 cases the team was responsible for reviewing in light of the Care Act changes”.

No service users had come to harm because of failings, and the staffing in his team was “volatile”, the panel found.

He was referred to the HCPC by the then acting service manager for mental health after external sources had raised concerns.

The panel found while he had been overwhelmed by the workload, this was not noticed by senior managers, and the social worker reflected in the council’s investigations that he had “been experiencing a level of fatigue which meant that, at times, he did not keep up with work that needed to be done and was prioritising the immediately demanding cases”.

“In the panel’s judgement, throughout the period of change and restructure, there was little management assistance for the team leaders. There were some opportunities for meetings, but there was an absence of operational policy direction on key elements of the change to assist the team managers, and not enough detail provided to assist with effective implementation.”

49 Responses to ‘Overwhelmed’ social worker sanctioned for failings following service restructure

  1. Karen April 17, 2018 at 11:44 am #

    Very sad, especially after 26 years unblemished career. It’s time the powers that be realised how impossible they are making the job before all social workers are sanctioned and there are none left to practice, or is that the plan.

    • Sharon Shoesmith April 18, 2018 at 11:16 pm #

      Totally agree Karen

      • Eco-Social Worker April 19, 2018 at 8:32 am #

        “No service users had come to harm … was prioritising the immediately demanding cases”

        Does the HCPC not realise this is how we all survive our working day!!!

        • Denise April 25, 2018 at 7:47 pm #

          Can’t agree more

  2. Firdia April 17, 2018 at 12:06 pm #

    This is a concerning ruling. The pressures that social workers are under with reduced budgets, increased workloads within the context of service reorganisation is well known. There is something intrinsically wrong with a system that does not hold organisations to account. The focus upon individual culpability without reference to organisational context is an injustice. Culpability is not just a micro entity. I have now reached the conclusion that professional regulation is less about protecting the public and more about creating fear and controlling social workers against standards that are arbitrary and have little to do with how human beings actually operate. They are ideals which most would agree with. However, are they actually achievable by humans? Some compassion is needed here along with a meaningful social work voice that has influence.

    • Katie Politico April 18, 2018 at 5:20 pm #

      Ferdia – what you say resonates strongly with my experience of being a statutory family support social worker. I feel so lucky to have been able to retire early. The last seven or so years have, without going into detail, been horrendous and I worry for the future of (contracted out) social work. The current government has, I believe, caused this. It is inhuman, without empathy and, ultimately, addicted to money.

    • Carol April 18, 2018 at 7:13 pm #

      Totally agree!

    • val riddell April 18, 2018 at 9:33 pm #

      i wholeheartedly agree.

    • Hazel April 20, 2018 at 3:49 pm #

      Couldn’t agree more. It’s a terrible culture to be blaming individuals rather than organisations. The role of social workers is exhausting enough, both physically and mentally, especially at times of change and restructures, without adding an added pressure of blaming indivuals for the ineviatbale shortcomings from unrealistic and exhausting workloads

  3. Tom J April 17, 2018 at 12:21 pm #

    – No service users had come to harm because of failings
    – unblemished 26-year career
    – ”extensive workload”, which not only included his own but the “additional 200 cases.
    – reliance on agency staff
    – overwhelmed by the workload, this was not noticed by senior managers
    – unlikely he would repeat the failings

    ….and yet they still slap on a caution. Astounding.

    You’ve also got to love the irony that he was referred to the ”acting service manager for mental health” – Clearly a compassionate expert when it comes to mental health.

  4. Social Worker April 17, 2018 at 3:29 pm #

    Abysmal failings by a council to properly support a valued member of staff who, no doubt, had a wealth of experience to draw on! No wonder he left. Disgraceful.

  5. Paul April 17, 2018 at 6:02 pm #

    You articale is writen is such a way that you are giving excuses for his poor low stardard of work.

    • Denise April 18, 2018 at 5:09 pm #

      And your point is? Quite the opposite this article could have been stronger in the social worker’s defense. As a social worker, no longer in practice, I believe there is an urgent need for a stronger union position which will robustly defend social workers who are hung out to dry by neo-liberal management and organisational avoidance of their duty to support and protect front line workers. Join a union and make it work on your behalf.

    • David April 18, 2018 at 5:39 pm #

      So disappointing to read your insensitive and blinkered views. You’re destined for a managers role soon 🙁

    • Social worker April 18, 2018 at 8:37 pm #

      Your reply is written in such a way that the is no excuse for your poor grammar…

    • lucy April 25, 2018 at 4:54 pm #

      Paul,

      I am a Child Protection Social Worker who has had 20 years direct front line experience,
      and I note the Team Manager in the article has had a 26 year unblemished career, therefore I believe I am qualified to give my opinion on the matter.

      How long have you been practising social work? If you have been around for any length of time in this field, you know, and at least have developed some sympathy and empathy for the plight of ALL Social Workers (especially those in the CP and Mental Health field), who work under extremely challenging, stressful, and often oppressive conditions, for little support (if any) from our managers, and no thanks from senior management.

      If we are hindered from doing our job because of the unreasonable & excessive workload (which is not achievable or fit for purpose) we are bullied, humiliated, publically shamed and vilified. What other profession(bar teaching & nursing) has to work in and put up with these inhumane conditions, which might I add, we don’t even get paid for all of the hours we do (usually near doable our paid working week). We do this so the council can continue to open their doors, and give our vulnerable parents & families a service, although both they and us deserve a heck of a lot better than what they and we are getting at present.

      If you re-read the article, you will notice that not only was the team manager managing a team load of 200 cases, he also has his own caseload he was managing, no doubt to try & take the stress away from frontline workers. How many managers do you know who have caseloads, whilst supervising a team? I dare say you probably don’t know any.

      Sadly, it is Social Workers like you, who don’t offer any colleagues or the profession any support, and too often people like you get into management positions, so you can express your critical views (from ivory towers), which is the last place you should be.

      Please try and remember why you, and the others of us got into the profession; it was most certainly not for the money, but because the majority of us, care about people.

  6. Anrutheta April 17, 2018 at 6:27 pm #

    Whilst i understand the issue with the individual i would be keen on an organisational level to explore this further. It mentions mental health? How removed were the LA and where did he receive support and guidance and supervision? I appreciate this has many facets to it. But one man organisationally, how did it get to that point? Surely accountability is not just on his shoulders?

  7. Carol April 17, 2018 at 7:10 pm #

    Overwhelmed by the case load
    And not seen by senior managers?
    Why thats what their role is?

    Where they reported to the HPCP also?
    Thought not. No wonder its in mess its in.
    Social workers are leaving by the masses.
    Wonder why?

  8. Yvonne April 17, 2018 at 8:08 pm #

    Note to all social worker insist that supervision is not just about cases but about reflective practice, pressures and constraints and have these noted down and supervion notes agreed before signed off do not be scared! U are not alone

    • Sam April 18, 2018 at 1:22 pm #

      Agreed!
      I have previously provided supervision and now as a social worker who only receives supervision, I am very firm on the ideal that my supervision and reflection on my practice will also need to consider me from a personal and holistic perspective. Work impacts on personal as personal impacts on work, so reflection across the board is important!

      Any manager worth their weight will respect and work towards this goal. If your not receiving supervision that works for you, be vocal and change it!

  9. lilybright April 17, 2018 at 8:11 pm #

    So the restructure and introduction of Care Act resulted in a colossal increase in workload for an otherwise exemplary worker who was, moreover, new to the management role. he experienced unmanageable stress, resulting in mental health difficulties with accompanying deleterious effect on his performance and……
    A half decent employer and professional regulator might have recognised, acknowledged, and attempted to mitigate, the stressors that were building up upon their employee (to whom they have a duty of care, no?). They don’t appear to have seriously done so.
    The regulator, in addition to having assured itself that all this had actually been done, might – had it had any understanding of mental ill-health – have recognised that a frequent feature and signifier of mental ill-health is the inability to recognise it as such and a consequent inability to ask for help.
    I despair. SW employers are not fit to act as employers and our regulator is not fit to act as regulator.

  10. Casper April 17, 2018 at 8:58 pm #

    Where is the HPCC coming from ?this worker had 26 years unblemished service but it is his fault his management “failed” to see he was struggling even though they state that the managers were overwhelmed and the Care Act implementation generated more work and the restructure was a mess. What is happening why blame the workers when it is clear that we need more support not being sanctioned . This will not improve practice it makes people leave or in my own experience my colleague took her own life I do hope they can at sleep at night .

  11. Fustrated sw April 17, 2018 at 9:05 pm #

    Absolutly shocking how a supposedly caring profession treat staff.

  12. Fiona April 17, 2018 at 9:06 pm #

    In his favour, the panel found the social worker had a previously unblemished 26-year career, was relatively new to his management role, and had been subject to an “extensive workload”, which not only included his own but the “additional 200 cases the team was responsible for reviewing in light of the Care Act changes”.

    But still it is his fault !!! Wow , restructuring is incredibly stressful for frontline staff and Managers , It looks like he is taking the blame for yet another restructuring nightmare and thus ruining his long career so sad

  13. Glyn April 17, 2018 at 10:29 pm #

    And they wonder why people leave the profession….

  14. Spike April 17, 2018 at 11:08 pm #

    Hcpc does it yet again! A social worker totally overwhelmed by systemic failings, punished for not being able to achieve the impossible. How very dare he!!!!! Hcpc appear to be entirely unable to face up to the realities of social work in todays financial climate with unrelenting cuts to services and increasing workloads and actually hold management and government to account!!!!!!! Thoughts are with you xx

  15. Charm April 17, 2018 at 11:43 pm #

    Abhorrent, utter ridiculousness, never before have I had such contempt towards the HCPC. The accountability applies to the organisation is non-existent. An utter disgrace HCPC, no structure of help and support.

  16. Margaret wood April 17, 2018 at 11:45 pm #

    That makes me angry. To treat a worker of such long experience so badly is inexcusable. Management by keyboard warriors, no less. Bullying cowards.

    • Julie April 19, 2018 at 7:52 pm #

      I honestly despair. After 15 years as a qualified Social Worker in Adults I’ve had enough. This is disgusting treatment and sickens me. The conditions, pressures and stress we are expected to work under is immense. On top of that councils using the hcpc as a way of targeting individuals is beyond belief. Every single social worker should be referred and I absolutely guarantee we would all be struck off, because if all our work was put under scrutiny they would find something on us all because it is impossible with all the high workloads etc to ensure that every single case recording, review. Assessment etc is completed. The expectations are unachievable and yet councils and health are allowed to get away with it.

  17. Paul April 18, 2018 at 7:46 am #

    One of the issues that I think emerges from this case is that there is a need for the hcpc to be able to issue warnings or cautions to local authorities and other public sector bodies when the organisational structures that they put in place place are deemed to contribute to failings by individual staff in meeting the standards they are required. The implicit message in this case was that the local authority did not do enough to support this man through a restructure and that this man’s supervision was inadequate to identify failings early on. What a sad way to end a professiona career of more than a quarter of a century. Perhaps the time has come to think about how social work could be moved out of large public sector environments like local authorities and into smaller gp like practices where the professionals would be more accountable to service users and less accountable to the needs of large bureaucracies; where the agenda is often about ‘more for less’ (saving money) and often without a proper concern for the consequent well being of its staff, who end up with more responsibilities and less time overall to provide the quality of practice they want for their clients.

  18. Dave Woodward April 18, 2018 at 10:28 am #

    Good grief.. The HCPC at it compassionate best…and what twerp referred him to the HCPC for this.!he had done 26 years as a social worker with unblemished record… New to management and by the employers own admission not well supported during a restructure during which they probably had to reapply for their jobs… Make a couple of not too serious errors by the sound of it… And adios… Sensible person wouldn’t work for those employers anyway. Good grief.

  19. Kerri April 18, 2018 at 12:20 pm #

    Disgusting treatment of a worthy social worker who had a lengthy unblemished record. It makes me sick to think we pay the HCPC our yearly registration fee and if we make any mistakes we can be referred by management put on trial and our identity exposed. Ruining people’s lives and careers. No wonder there’s a mass exodus of social workers , I’m one of them. The pressure of the job is unbelievable. That and the fear of HCPC..

  20. Sw111 April 18, 2018 at 12:52 pm #

    Appalling hcpc, yet again demonstrates callousness apportioning blame on the individual and the organisation is completely exonerated. Hcpc is not fit for purpose, not to be a regulatory body. Why is the government unnecessarily spending so money through fast track and other avenues when the hcpc inhumane values that are contrary to social care is intent upon driving away experienced workers.
    It’s ridiculous – all the workers should raise a petition against hcpc.
    It’s really sad.

  21. David April 18, 2018 at 2:30 pm #

    Shocking, and so sad for hard working Social Workers. I don’t often (ever) see managers or senior managers coming before the HCPC – are they not registered professionals too? I had cause to report a manager for bullying, and very very poor practice. The HCPC dismissed my complaint as “no actual serious risk had occurred” – really ??? Speak to the persons family, and my colleagues. Cut budgets, make staff do twice the work, give them no time to think, and then sanction them when they fail – brilliant idea.

  22. John April 18, 2018 at 4:22 pm #

    I think the amount of responses to this article shows how utterly apathetic Social Workers are towards HCPC. Worthless! I do wonder if the senior managers in this case are even registered to a governing body? I would doubt it, No personal accountability for them. Easy enough to through an experienced worker under the bus though. No voice what so ever as a profession.

  23. John Stephenson April 18, 2018 at 4:52 pm #

    No manager facing any action what a surprise,The H C P C process goes against all natural justice,there needs to be an investigation into their actions.

  24. pauline April 18, 2018 at 5:27 pm #

    wow the HCPC are clearly failing in their role. and require an urgent reshaping of their own organization- wander how the HCPC would manage under those conditions. shameful and unintelligent decision making.

  25. Colin April 18, 2018 at 5:32 pm #

    The Idea of a professional body has always been a joke. It has never promoted social work or really done anything for the profession but has rather added another layer of disciplining. As can be seen from the case reported above, despite all the mitigating factors they have still opted to sanction the SW for not being able to achieve an impossible task! The sooner we are rid of the HCPC the better!

  26. David Conway April 18, 2018 at 5:40 pm #

    Time to stop talking/complaining about Hcpc, and take action. After 26 years as a Social Work, and this kind of action. I believe in accountability, however at all levels?

  27. Overwhelmed April 18, 2018 at 6:15 pm #

    And this, in one article, sums up exactly why I left the profession last year – I am having nightmare flashbacks just reading this ….!!!

    There but for the grace of God go any of us……!

    Enough said.

  28. Dby2006 April 18, 2018 at 7:25 pm #

    Agree with all of the above ongoing shortage of Social workers, lack of experienced social workers who’d what to continue in a profession where bullying and scapegoating is supported by the system and the very body who manages the registrations, and oh where’s the voice for Social workers erhm left the room. Social workers should march for human rights, equality and dignity at work scrap the HCPC before there is no social workers or service left in England

  29. Carol April 18, 2018 at 8:06 pm #

    Imagine the pain, physically and mentally he must of been going through in that re- structure. And only assuming working long hours. It sounds like a very poor planned restructure most probably rolled out all at once and not staggered.
    Its a thankless job. Vocation goes out the window because your unable to forfill it.
    Id rather work in a coffee shop at peace.
    Disgusted.

  30. James April 18, 2018 at 11:26 pm #

    What was the senior management doing? Clearly scapegoating!

  31. Julie April 19, 2018 at 7:43 am #

    The HCPC behaving disgracefully again. Have these people ever actually done the job or are they just a bunch of careerists who got out of practice as soon as they could?

  32. Eco-Social Worker April 19, 2018 at 8:30 am #

    “unblemished 26-year career … additional 200 cases … was prioritising the immediately demanding cases ”

    In other jobs you get a medal for that sort of thing!

    Having been there (almost) and seen others struggling under this sort of pressure the only advice I have is GO OFF SICK.

    At least if you are in Capability you get a fair(ish) hearing and when you emerge your professional reputation will be unharmed. However soldier on and make one mistake and the HCPC will crucify you.

    • John April 19, 2018 at 10:16 am #

      Sadly I think you are right.

  33. Ann Edwards April 19, 2018 at 12:08 pm #

    I wish to add my name to the list of people who are appalled by the treatment of this social worker.
    This person should never have been referred to HCPC.
    I hope the comments are fed back to HCPC.

  34. Santokh Ghai April 20, 2018 at 1:19 am #

    I am shocked and surprised at the action being taken against this manager. Actually, the whole senior management appears to be mismanaged. Why to single out this manager alone. The department should have been put under administration

  35. Harvey Campbell April 25, 2018 at 10:58 am #

    Firstly, I am heartened by the shear volume of comments on this case, this shows the level of feeling that it has generated.
    As a social worker employed directly by the NHS I am struck by the very different approach that it takes to similar situations. In the NHS the focus is very much about learning from incidents not about sanctioning the individual. Local government, wake up and smell the coffee! There needs to be a complete change in culture in local authority adult social care, where situations like this generate learning, collective responsibility to mitigate against future occurrences,rather than passing the buck to the professional regulator, who in turns punishes the individual.