Social worker suspended for safeguarding failures amid ‘environment of low morale’

The agency worker failed to attend multiple discharge meetings and ignored his duty to prepare a care plan

Health and Care Professions Council

A social worker has been suspended after failing to conduct or record safeguarding referral investigations about multiple service users, a Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) tribunal has found.

The panel ruled the agency social worker had committed “serious breaches of the applicable standard” and had put service users at an “unwarranted risk of harm”.

He has been suspended for 12 months after the tribunal decided his actions had amounted to misconduct, rather than a lack of competence.

Lack of contact

Concerns about the social worker were raised in April 2015 after the death of a service user two months previously.

A deputy manager at the NHS Trust where the social worker was based told the tribunal he started having concerns about the social worker a year previously, which he had raised during supervision in December 2014.

The social worker’s role was to assess service users, prepare care plans and review risk and act as care coordinator using the Care Programme Approach (CPA).

The tribunal ruled that the social worker had breached several HCPC standards, stating that a “serious falling short of what would be proper in the circumstances” had occurred.

The panel concluded that the social worker was working in “an environment of low morale, that the department was badly organised” and, for part of the time, there was only one manager covering the team when there should have been three.

However, it found real concern in the social worker’s “inability to recognise his lack of personal resilience at the relevant time”. It also stated that he “did not show sufficient regard to the risks to service users” that could arise from “his failure to take personal responsibility”. His inability to be more proactive in his management of his cases was highlighted.

Personal difficulties

When reviewing Service User A’s records, the deputy manager noted the social worker had failed to attend his patient’s discharge planning meetings in January 2015.

The deputy manager also told the tribunal there was a policy to visit service users within 48 hours of discharge and to follow up within seven days.

Despite the social worker visiting Service User A and saying she denied him entry into the property, the deputy manager said the social worker should have made further efforts to contact the service user. He added it should not have been left to a support worker to contact the service user several days later.

The social worker should also have prepared an enhanced care plan for Service User A, however, no care plan was prepared despite prompts, the tribunal heard.

A second deputy manager, who gave evidence at the tribunal, said the social worker had raised personal difficulties he was encountering during this time, saying he was under pressure. Yet, she did not recall him asking for additional support at work.

A repeat situation

The first deputy manager stated the social worker was allocated to undertake two separate safeguarding investigations of a service user who had autism and an emotionally unstable personality disorder in December 2014, and that the referrals needed to be investigated swiftly because of the potential risk to a service user.

However, the social worker told him that he had not conducted the investigation and gave no explanation for his failure.

Speaking at the tribunal, the social worker told the panel he was poorly trained on the council’s electronic records system and was used to managers “having much more contact” with social workers. He added he felt burdened by a large caseload at a time when he was going through a number of personal difficulties.

With regard to Service User A, the social worker said he felt he had sufficient contact, visiting once a month, but accepted he failed to complete, or record completing, a care plan. He finished by emphasising he never had any intention to put service users at risk, but had not felt that he was getting the appropriate support from his managers.

Aggravating features

The tribunal found “a number of aggravating features” which resulted in the social worker’s suspension. These included the “potential harm to service users”, “superficial insight” and a “a lack of evidence of any remediation” for his actions.

The panel determined that the suspension order should be for 12 months “to reflect the seriousness of the misconduct” and “the need to maintain public confidence” in the profession and its regulator.

The social worker expressed regret at not having sought appropriate help but said he was now “a wiser and stronger person”. He also apologised to the witnesses who had to attend and give evidence, adding that he wanted to go back to social work once he “knew he had the ability”.

12 Responses to Social worker suspended for safeguarding failures amid ‘environment of low morale’

  1. Eco-Social Worker June 5, 2018 at 9:09 am #

    “‘He added he felt burdened by a large caseload at a time when he was going through a number of personal difficulties’ and showed “inability to recognise his lack of personal resilience at the relevant time””

    I’ve said this before on these threads, but the only choice if you are in this position is go off sick. If you struggle on you will be hung out to dry.

    Sad that so many of us find ourselves in this situation.

  2. Ruth Cartwright June 5, 2018 at 11:41 am #

    Obviously not good enough and the worker should have realised things were going terribly wrong and proactively sought help. But would he have got it – there was a shortage of managers and ‘A second deputy manager, who gave evidence at the tribunal, said the social worker had raised personal difficulties he was encountering during this time, saying he was under pressure. Yet, she did not recall him asking for additional support at work.’ Surely an important part of a manager or supervisor’s job is to pick up on these matters and offer help even if not explicitly asked for? Who knows whether the situation may never have got so bad if the worker was being helped and supported as I feel he should have been.

  3. Hortense June 5, 2018 at 10:30 pm #

    And what about the managers? Seems like he has been held personally responsible despite acknowledged problems within the team. A good manager should offer support not just wait for the person to ask for it.

  4. Helen June 6, 2018 at 7:36 am #

    How many of us can identify…….?

    • Eke June 6, 2018 at 11:30 am #

      The social worker has been made the scape goat in the absence of proactive management and a cohesive team environment.
      The managers failed the social worker, and she failed the service user.

  5. sw111 June 6, 2018 at 10:12 am #

    It is sad to hear about the difficulties worker was going through and unfortunately that impacted on his work.
    There is one issue I would like to raise. As far as I know the investigations into serious case review (that is a more systemic investigation), where the consequences of action/inaction by agencies including social care is far more serious, is to learn from mistakes. That learning is for everyone.
    The purpose of hcpc investigations is to penalise the worker who has already been lynched. What learning is there for the organisation through the hcpc process – nothing. It conveys them the message that management is beyond any reproach.
    Truly sad.

  6. Darcy June 6, 2018 at 12:35 pm #

    Another social worker put before the hcpc kangaroo court. Situation chimes in as usual, rregarding managers who knew of his personal and work difficulties and did not support him but covered their . Own backs.. LA and hcpc sharks are circling social workers, is it any wonder many social workers want out?

  7. Hellserch June 6, 2018 at 4:11 pm #

    This is a travesty which all of us are one missed Safeguarding Alert from. The tribunal recognised the lack of management within the team/service and that “morale” was poor but at no point do I hear any censure of the senior managers for this.

    Sickness days as a defence against poor management is the only credible response, even though this damages your professional credibility and any chances of promotion/development. It’s the sharpening shears of poor practice but what else do you do maintain a balance between all these superimposing conditions?

  8. F B June 6, 2018 at 5:06 pm #

    How very predictable. This outcome is depressingly familiar. Lynch the social worker. An investigation is needs to have been undertaken into the managers and their roles and responsibilities. HCPC continues to behave as executioner. If you practise social work you are on the frontline but appears that you are lined up in front of a firing squad. Sad

  9. Portsian June 7, 2018 at 3:44 pm #

    I agree so much with what has been said.

    Can we refer managers to HCPC!?

  10. Sally June 7, 2018 at 8:11 pm #

    He was definitely not the only person at fault, but it was also not a one off incident.

  11. Mr Me June 8, 2018 at 12:46 pm #

    Yes there were some faults on a number of levels but clearly there was management failure here yet they just ‘stuck the boot in’ as witnesses, covering there own backs and ‘delegating’ the blame for there own mistakes. Who on earth was the safeguarding lead? I do not recognise a situation where a SW left without supervision and checks re the safeguarding strategy?