An experienced social worker has been suspended for 12 months by a Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) tribunal after it emerged she had practised for months while not registered.
The social worker, who did not attend the tribunal, was removed from the HCPC register in May 2014 after missing a payment. She was not re-registered until May 2016.
The panel heard that, on her application to rejoin the register, the social worker had declared that she had not worked since 22 October 2014. But documentary evidence showed she had in fact continued to practise until being suspended by the council on 17 November 2014.
In reaching its decision on a sanction, the tribunal decided that the social worker had intentionally recorded an incorrect date rather than simply being careless.
“The panel was satisfied that, applying the objective standard of ordinary decent people, knowingly [inserting] the incorrect date in the application to join the register, which is a formal and important document, would be considered dishonest,” it said.
The tribunal heard from two witnesses, a business manager at the council employing the social worker (‘Witness 1’) and an employee in the HCPC’s registration department (‘Witness 2’).
Evidence from the two demonstrated that the social worker in been in the council’s employment while unregistered between 7 May 2014 and 23 May 2016. Witness 1’s statement and electronic council records further showed that the social worker had continued to work past for almost another month beyond the date declared on her 2016 registration form.
In weighing whether the social worker’s actions were dishonest, the panel considered that the date of her suspension “was more likely than not to have been a memorable date for her, being a significant event in her employment which would have made it clear to her that she was practising until then”.
The tribunal also found that the social worker had mentioned during an investigatory interview that she had not been practising since November 2014.
“On the balance of probabilities, in making the incorrect statement [on her form], the registrant sought to minimise the time during which she had practised unregistered,” the panel found.
In considering whether the social worker’s actions constituted misconduct, the tribunal found that as a senior practitioner she should have been “acutely aware” of the importance of keeping her registration up to date.
“By being employed as a social worker for some two years while unregistered, despite periods of sickness or suspension, the panel was satisfied the registrant fell seriously short of the standards expected of her,” the tribunal report said.
The social worker had failed to rectify the situation for a “significant and protracted period” after discovering in October 2014 her registration had lapsed, the panel found.
“In addition, the registrant knowingly provided inaccurate information to her regulator in a form which contains a signed and dated declaration,” it added. “This fell far below the standards expected of her, and the fact that she did this dishonestly meant she fell seriously short of the fundamental professional obligation of a social worker to be open and honest at all times.”
The panel concluded that the social worker, who did not provide a statement to the hearing, had failed to show insight into her situation. Nonetheless, it said she could apply for an early review of her sanction, based on producing evidence of reflection as well as references from people willing to back up her honesty and integrity.
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