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.
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.
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”.