Below is the text of an open letter we have sent today to the Professional Srandards Authority, who “help to protect the public through our work with organisations that register and regulate people working in health and social care…”.
OPEN LETTER TO THE PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS AUTHORITY
The Transparency Project is a registered charity with aims that include improving understanding and public confidence in the family courts.
In November 2015 His Honour Judge Horton, sitting in the Family Court, found that three named social workers had, variously, intentionally falsified evidence by altering a social work report to make it appear less favourable to the family; withheld the report from the court and/or lied on oath (in one case twice) to cover this up. The names of the social workers were Kim Goode, Sarah Walker-Smart and Lisa Humphreys.
His Honour Judge Horton’s judgment is publicly available here: A, B, C, D & E (Final Hearing), Re  EWFC B186 (18 November 2015).
We wrote recently on our blog about anecdotal reports that these named social workers had subsequently been found fit to practise by the HCPC, in response to social media reports to that effect (see blog post: “If the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) really have found the social workers who lied on oath in ‘the Hampshire case’, NOT to have committed professional misconduct, should they publish this decision?”, 17 January 2017).
We drew our post to the attention of the HCPC who declined to comment for reasons of confidentiality, thereby implicitly confirming that there is confidential information held by them in respect of this issue i.e. that the HCPC must have had some dealings with the case.
We write to draw this issue to the attention of the Professional Standards Authority and to request some consideration of the public interest issues that we raise below.
Our interest in the decision is:
- There is a public interest in the proper regulation of the social work profession and in the regulatory response to alleged or proven misconduct including dishonesty.
- Whilst the HCPC transparently publishes decisions where charges are upheld and sanctions imposed, we understand the HCPC does not ordinarily publish decisions in cases that have not proceeded to full fitness to practise hearing at committee or where the social worker was found fit to practise at such hearing, though may do so where the social worker permits this.
- Ordinarily there would be limited public interest in the publication of information about charges which have not been pursued or upheld, but in circumstances where the Family Court has made serious adverse findings which would clearly amount to serious professional misconduct and where the HCPC has made a decision that is prima facie inconsistent with that there is a significant public interest in the basis for that decision.
- It does not appear to us that the HCPC procedures and regulations properly cater for the public interest in transparency in decision making / regulation in circumstances of this sort.
- We consider that the absence of any published information about this case (and any others in similar circumstances) may have an impact upon public confidence, both in the HCPC as the regulatory body responsible for upholding the standards of the social work profession, and in the family courts and child protection social work generally.
We note that Sarah Walker-Smart currently appears on the HCPC register based in Havant, while her managers Kim Goode and Lisa Humphreys (who the court says were employed in November 2015 as a District Manager and Assistant Director respectively outside of Hampshire) do not.
We therefore presume (at least in the case of the currently registered social worker) that either the matter never proceeded to committee hearing or, if it did so, the social worker was exonerated / found fit to practise, with even the record that this public hearing took place struck from the record
We understand that all decisions of committee hearings are routinely forwarded to, and reviewed by the Professional Standards Authority in respect of public protection, which extends to matters of public confidence.
We write to bring this particular case to your attention, in case the matter(s) never reached committee hearing and therefore the PSA for automatic review. It is our understanding that decisions reviewed by the Professional Standards Authority are routinely published where then referred to a formal PSA panel meeting or to court and note that current published records don’t appear to include this.
We should be grateful if you would confirm whether you have reviewed, are reviewing or will now review this decision; the time frames for anyreview; and what the public and the profession can expect by way of transparency of decision making in such an exceptional situation such as this one.
We have no particular agenda other than that we would like to be able to write about the decision and reasons in an informed manner. We recognize that there may be legitimate reasons for the HCPC decision and think the public and the profession needs to understand these reasons, both in order to maintain public confidence and to prevent misreporting or inaccurate speculation, given the names and details are already in the public domain.
With that in mind we propose to publish a copy of this letter and your reply at the Transparency Project.
The Transparency Project
[Update 15 February 2017 : the preliminary reply of the PSA to our letter can be found here.]
Feature pic courtesy of Bob Jagendorf on Flickr – thanks!