New fitness-to-practise process can be model for other professions, say Social Work England bosses

New regulator says handover date, and more detailed guidelines around practice will be announced soon

Image of Lord Patel of Bradford, the chair of Social Work England
Lord Patel of Bradford, the chair of Social Work England.

A new fitness-to-practise model being consulted on by Social Work England can offer a template for other regulators, its two senior leaders have said.

Speaking to Community Care ahead of an event to launch its consultation on professional standards and rules, the new regulator’s chair Lord Patel of Bradford and chief executive Colum Conway pledged the proposed new system for fitness-to-practise cases would be faster and more transparent.

Social Work England’s operating framework gives it latitude to deal with different cases in different ways. This will enable it to process more minor alleged transgressions without the need for practitioners to proceed to a full tribunal, and to tweak the system without consulting MPs.

“[This is an opportunity] for social work to lead the charge and say, this is how you should inspect and regulate,” said Lord Patel.

Conway added that the process would be “consultative” right through. “One things people complain about is getting a paper saying, here is a complaint, ‘and that’s the last I hear about it for months while I sit in anxiety’,” he said. “People will be involved at all stages and we’ll keep talking to them and let them know where we are.

The effectiveness of the decision-making process would be kept under review to ensure reasons for different sanctions were “explicit”, Conway said.

He added that the aim of tribunals would be to operate “in an open manner and in an understandable way”.

‘Room for manouevre’

As well as rules around fitness to practise, Social Work England’s consultation, which closes on 1 May, also covers standards around professional conduct and education and training.

Conway said the draft standards that have been published could be open to considerable revision within legislative and regulatory boundaries.

“There is room for manoeuvre,” he said. “What we are trying to test is: do people feel we are being ambitious enough? Do they get a flavour of what we are trying to do around social work? How we engage with people and the sort of relationship we want to build? If not we are ready to make amendments and adjust.”

He added that some points – for instance around what constitutes “ethical” use of social media by social workers – had been left deliberately vague but that more detailed guidance would be published soon after the consultation closes.

Conway said that Social Work England and the HCPC were working towards a handover date – and had made preparations for a “smooth, safe and efficient” transfer” – but that ministerial sign-off, with Brexit looming, was holding the process up.

‘Our bottom line is to produce the best social workers’

A key point within Social Work England’s draft plans is to make statutory-setting placements mandatory for all trainee social workers.

Some practitioners have questioned the viability of this, given pressures on employers’ capacity, and the fact that universities are now competing with fast-track training providers for councils’ availability.

Lord Patel, who said he had spoken to around 1,700 people involved with social work since taking up his role last year, acknowledged there would be challenges.

“[But] our bottom line is to produce the best social workers – and if the evidence says a statutory placement is key, then we have to push that,” he said.

Conway said that giving time to adjust to the measure was one main reason why the new educational standards are not due to come into force until autumn 2020.

“It’s important we put a marker down that this is what needs to happen,” he said. “We are willing to work with people and are recruiting a significant number of regional engagement leads, who will work on the ground with everyone, including universities and other providers.”

‘Engagement has to be about more than just paying a fee’

On mooted hikes to social work registration fees – which have just been controversially raised 18% by the HCPC – Conway said there would be further detailed conversations but claimed Social Work England’s financial independence was important to practitioners.

“All we can do is be honest and frank about, here’s what it costs, here’s what we are trying to do, here’s why it is valuable, so here is our proposition,” he said.

Making the case would involve persuading practitioners that the new organisation hadn’t just been set up to collect a payment every 12 months, Conway added.

“Engagement with the regulator has to be about more than paying the fee,” he said. “Part of what we have heard back through talking to people is, ‘Show us the value,’ and we will endeavour to do that.”

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10 Responses to New fitness-to-practise process can be model for other professions, say Social Work England bosses

  1. Frasierfanclub1 March 7, 2019 at 1:19 am #

    As the subject of an enquiry and seemingly unemployable as a result could I suggest that if a local authority feels the need to make a referral that it is required to submit the evidence at the point of referral? Four months in and I stand to lose my home and my sanity with no end in sight. I am not sure how I can demonstrate my fitness to practice when local authorities shy away purely on the basis of a referral having been made, so time must surely be of the essence.

    • Tenyears March 7, 2019 at 3:13 pm #

      There should be a shorter process, four months is too long! Surely they could look at the evidence and determine of it will progress wihin a fortnight. I feel for you, either way it goes. It’s all too bureaucratic.

  2. Jim Greer March 7, 2019 at 10:10 am #

    Sounds like some echoes of Brexit here. Social work is leaving the HCPC and is going to be able to throw away all the rules and procedures of the supposedly bureauocratic HCPC. No thought about the fact that these lengthy procedures are there for good reasons to ensure fairness for registrants and thoroughness and transparency in the public interest. Then we have Brexit style hubris that all the other regulators will want to follow suit just because this way is better.
    Then we have the issue about statutory placements. We already have a situation where all social work students undertake a placement which involves statutory duties. Making it manadatory that this takes place in a statutory agency seems to fly in the face of the growing culture of involving the private and voluntary sector in providing statutory functions. Furthermore, guaranteeing statutory placements has been difficult since targets for local authority targets providing them were removed.
    Increasingly I meet students who say they do not want to work within statutory social work. It is not the sum total of what social work is or what it has to offer.

  3. John Barrett March 7, 2019 at 4:09 pm #

    It’s all and well stating we want the best practise and training for sw. what about representing the front line practitioners? Who face low pay , daily discrimination for within health and social care, put up with fragmented services , are roundly blamed by politicians , public citizens and anybody else with an axe to grind. Please tell me how increasing my registration fees helps me? What are you going to do for me when I am complained about for doing my very unpopular job. 25 years of practise and I am routinely infantilised humiliated and belittled by families , health professionals and my own managers. What’s in it for me?

    • Marc Hayes March 9, 2019 at 9:42 am #

      That’s about BASW, not the regulator.

  4. Joanne March 7, 2019 at 4:15 pm #

    Mine went on for seven years, I am now back again to review, I lost my house I have owned and are now in a run down rented property, in debt with no job, which impacted upon my daughter. Yet recently a social worker dealing drugs and receiving a conviction of a suspended sentence gets the case dealt with quickly and receives a caution. who would have faith in him as a social worker its all wrong

    • frasierfanclub1 March 8, 2019 at 5:14 pm #

      7 years ?!!! Bloody hell. Its cruel. I asked whether ‘time served’ is taken into account in the unlikely outcome of a suspension. It isn’t. Where’s the comeback? I think I’ll give up now and go into teaching instead.

      Its all about public protection. They prioritise those cases which pose the greatest risk.

      In my case the LA asked my agency to make the referral and the agency did as they were asked. Obviously when finally approached by HCPC all they could say was that this is what they were told, because they had never supervised my work. The Local Authority has been asked on repeated occasions to produce the evidence, and it is now being escalated.

      They should be to provide it or the case will be closed.

  5. Disillusioned March 8, 2019 at 10:34 am #

    I hope the new regulator would be fair, just and transparent giving opportunity to the workers to speak and for the regulatory body also to take on board holistic view of the the situation.
    At present the regulatory body is so punitive and the process so tedious. They take over two years to hear the case at the panel and until that period you are proven guilty without trial and you are unemployable.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the number of social workers not in work is linked to the hcpc cumbersome and traumatic process.

    At present the hcpc is a body in alliance with the local authority to punish the social worker.
    The sanctions are disproportionate and impossible to follow through, for example hcpc might decide to restrict your practice but do they also advise local authorities/ employers how to support that worker. The answer is NO. Worker has to find the job and to prove themselves in a vacuum.

    I am the unfortunate one going through the excruciating process. The whole debacle has scarred me such that I worry being watched minutely to exaggerate my lapses. I am unemployed and suffering from depression – I was so much passionate about my job and considered that to be my vocation.

    Social care was such a noble profession but because of the management agenda/ bullying and hcpc harrowing process, it has become frightening. Yet there are cases where due to management lapse, the child suffers harm but that whole issue is diluted or presented in such a way with the least impact on the person concerned compared to one who committed a clerical error.

  6. John March 8, 2019 at 11:35 am #

    I agree with the comments made, what will Social Work England do for front line workers? This will no doubt be another tool to hammer front line workers, generally when the biggest issue is the conditions they work in. Will Social Work England look into working conditions, clearly not. They are interested in having the best workers with out recognising how you get the best out of workers. So in the end the only thing they will do is apparently make it slightly less agonising going through the process of a complaint. Really worth it then.

  7. Frasierfanclub1 March 15, 2019 at 10:15 pm #

    I’ve decided to leave the profession after 20 years. My entire career defined by 12 weeks in a failing local authority.