Social worker suspended for copying and pasting information between DoLS forms

The tribunal said the practitioner had acted in a "dishonest, irresponsible and reckless manner"

sanctions
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A social worker has been suspended from the register for twelve months for copying and pasting information between different service users’ Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS) forms.

A Social Work England tribunal found the practitioner’s actions failed to respect the privacy and dignity of the eight service users concerned, while potentially unlawfully depriving them of their liberty.

The tribunal heard the practitioner, who was qualified as a best interest assessor (BIA), copied information from a number of DoLS forms, including one completed by another BIA, to those of eight other service users. It was accepted that the council faced a significant backlog of DoLS assessments at the time.

The tribunal decided a 12-month sanction would keep the public safe while allowing the practitioner, who wishes to return to social work, sufficient time to update his skills.

What this case was about

The case relates to the completion of form 3, which contains four of the six assessments that must be completed for any DoLS application (mental capacity, best interests, no refusals and age), and is the responsibility of the BIA. In 2016, the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services issued guidance on completing form 3s, which set out a number of general principles that BIAs should follow, including:

  • It should be a professional report based on factual information and professional judgement.
  • There should be professional ownership of the report by the BIA and other documents relied on should be clearly identified.
  • The assessment should be objective, concise and unambiguous. Where opinions, assumptions or ‘hearsay’ are recorded they should be clearly framed as such.
  • Where information is being taken from previous assessments the source should be referenced (particularly relevant for reviews/renewals).
  • Most importantly of all, remember that the assessment is about a person and they should be evident throughout the assessment.

‘Style and prose’ recognised

The practitioner’s poor practice came to light in November 2016 when a social worker and fellow BIA, witness A, recognised her prose and style of writing in several DoLS forms he completed. The tribunal heard she met him in January 2017 and explained that copying and pasting of certain information used in other form 3s  was not of itself improper, but it needed to accurately reflect the relevant service user’s actual circumstances and personal details.

After further similar concerns were raised, an audit was carried out in April 2017 of other form 3s the practitioner had completed. The audit revealed the forms for eight service users were identical in various parts and were not all relevant to the individual service users.

On page four of the DoLS form for one service user (dealing with the issue of whether the person was unable to understand the information relevant to the decision), in answer to a question about her, the service user responded “I’ve no idea” and in response to a question about where she was responded “with a shrug of her shoulders”.

Identical responses were recorded on several other forms the practitioner completed. The panel said it was “inconceivable that each individual would have answered and responded in exactly the same way”.

The panel noted that whilst witness A said that on occasions it was acceptable to copy and paste certain general phrases into another form, it did not consider that was appropriate in this case.

‘Significant backlog’

The tribunal heard that initially BIAs at the council were put on a rota and the practitioner was allocated, on average, one case per month, which was in addition to his main role. He was given one week to complete each assessment.

The social worker, who gave evidence at the hearing, said that this created a lot of additional pressure, as he would still need to take phone calls and attend meetings as part of his core role. However, he was confident that at the time he was able to cope.

During cross-examination he agreed that by doing what he did, he saved himself time and that the information he provided was incorrect.

The interim service manager for the complex learning disability team (witness B) accepted that the council had faced a “significant backlog” of DoLS assessments to carry out and that this created a lot of pressure on the BIAs. She said the social worker had been part of a rota system that was set up to help deal with the workload but after an initial period the rota had been stopped.

Exposed to ‘potential risk of real harm’

The panel said that the practitioner had acted in a dishonest, irresponsible and reckless manner towards “very vulnerable service users” and “exposed them to the potential risk of real harm”. It concluded he had impaired fitness to practice on both public protection and public interest grounds.

The social worker told the tribunal his actions were “unprofessional, stupid, naïve and potentially put service users at risk of being unlawfully deprived of their liberty”, but he had received no financial or personal gain as a result.

He told the tribunal he wanted to return to social work in the future, but he did not intend to work as a BIA again.

Sanction

The panel decided a twelve-month suspension was appropriate and proportionate.

“This would give adequate time for the social worker to develop his insight and find the necessary training courses to get his CPD up to date,” the judgment said.

His suspension will be reviewed before it expires.

The panel said the social worker would help a future panel reviewing the order by:

• Continuing to engage in this process and with Social Work England.
• Providing up-to-date references and testimonials (paid or unpaid work).
• Producing an up-to-date CPD record and evidence of relevant training and learning.
• Providing a reflective piece that addresses his failings in this case.

7 Responses to Social worker suspended for copying and pasting information between DoLS forms

  1. Jason M March 4, 2020 at 2:21 pm #

    Lets see a s12 Dr subject to the same scrutiny. While what many write is carefully, blandly worded so it is ‘relevant’, I see many without any personal information or observation as to the ACTUAL mental health of THIS person we are assessing. Such a blithe disregard for the individuals we are responsible for assessing and giving a voice to (in s12 Drs cases usually for a fixed cash sum per carbon copy) should always lead to sanctions.

  2. Kate Mcmurdo March 5, 2020 at 7:28 am #

    I have a disabled child and I can honestly say that I have lost count of the number of assessments from health, education and social services that have had large content copied and pasted, which is clearly evident when other people’s names crop up in assessments in place of both mine and my son. It’s really worrying as these assessments can have an impact on actions going forward. The worst case of this happening was when a paediatrician copied and pasted from someone else a section which said my son had been admitted to hospital on several occasions with mild head injuries. My child has NEVER been admitted to hospital with head injuries and the only time he attended accident and emergency regarding a bump to the head was one that he obtained at nursery and they phoned and asked me to take him as a precaution. This social worker is being used as an example and hopefully this might change the mindset of practitioners. But at the end of the day, when under pressure to complete large caseloads, people take desperate measures. Those measures have huge ramifications for families and this is a systemic problem rather than one person acting inappropriately and unprofessionally.

  3. Billy March 5, 2020 at 7:39 am #

    That’s what all the staff do where I work in a leaving care service …. everything is copy and pasted for pathway plans as staff have too many to do, managers let this happen. Enjoy more staff is your answer and reduce case loads.

  4. Michael March 5, 2020 at 8:06 pm #

    This is terrible and represents a much bigger issue in social care. I agree that sancations are needed to prevent this type of practice but we have to ask ourselves the question of why practitioners are taking this sort of approach in their practice? There is a much bigger problem here that is being ignored. When there are far too little staff to meet the demands, patient safety and quality of care will inevitable be compromised. This is not rocket science. The sad thing about this story is that our healthcare staff are expected to meet far too huge demands in the face of never-ending cuts, and increasing pressure to meet targets. This is surely a recipe for patient safety disasters.

  5. Elizabeth March 6, 2020 at 11:59 am #

    I agree with Jason M. Bland that wording is a real problem. It means that fact and opinion can be conflated. If the report is challenged, even though the implications of the report about the individual are clear, the Council has a get out clause in that the words are vague and can be interpreted in different ways. Total lack of transparency.

    This is very much the case in children’s services too. Four sets of relatives in our extended family asked for an initial viability assessment to be the kinship carers of my two grandchildren who had been taken into foster care. The reports were conducted and written by the same social worker. Information was copied and pasted between some of them. Some of the information relating to one person was written about another. This was acknowledged by a manager after complaints were made.

    That was the least of the poor record keeping issues – the social worker made false allegations in the report of one potential kinship carer having a criminal record. After she and her husband complained, this was acknowledged by the Council, which is a large organisation lauded for its good practice. The social worker’s manager had signed it off. An apology was issued and she and her husband were told that the viability assessment report had been destroyed. However it was retained and then shared with an independent social worker from outside the Council.

    Not only are there far too few staff. It is clear that they are overstretched. But these difficult working conditions lead to staff turnover and poor practice which seriously affects people’s lives and reputations.

  6. Jane March 8, 2020 at 1:03 pm #

    Scary times. A LOT of cutting and pasting goes on in social work due to the plethora of impossible forms and reports to complete and it just seems that these colleagues ‘grassed up’ one of their own, perhaps due to a dislike of them. Moral of the story is, watch your back. Now that SW England has tighter control over social workers (rather than the general HCPC), anything and everything will be looked at, and a culture of whistleblowing will come into play. Granted, this SW should not have been so stupid as to cut and paste information from client to client that was completely made up and not true, but I agree with the previous poster that this is a wider systemic issue and we should be focusing more on WHY social workers feel the need to compromise and their integrity in order to get the work done. Interesting how it wasn’t mentioned in the article about how or if SW England will investigate why there is a BIA backlog. Why don’t managers get pulled up the way social workers do? Poor management leads to this kind of situation, but social workers become the easy scapegoats.

    • Ava. March 9, 2020 at 2:14 pm #

      Unfortunately cut and pasting is how many workers forefill their quotas, otherwise you can end up working beyond your hours and being told that you lack competency as your colleagues can work at a faster speed. It is a crying shame the bigger picture does not always provide context. ie the cultural shift in expectations and scapegoating. Whistle blowing can strangle your career as there is no guarantee how it will be processed, which means an atmosphere mendacity floats about like a spectre. The clients are easy….. the framework and politics around discharging duties, far less so. The expectations of all professional in the welfare sector will continue to grow. This is just one example. For my part I have history of being a little of a hard ass ie taking as long as I need and always reminding everyone we are producing legal documents that we are accountable for years from the date it was submitted. I do feel the pressure, but i don’t know how I would sleep otherwise.