Below is the text of an email response received on 16th February from the Health Care and Professional Council (HCPC), to our Open Letter of 10th February 2017 to the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) (we had cc’d the HCPC and the PSA invited them to respond).
The history of why we wrote to the PSA in the first place is here.
The letter we received from the PSA is here.
Community Care have today run a piece : Social workers criticised and named by judge cleared of wrongdoing by HCPC, which sets out the contents of a statement issued by the local authority in question, Hampshire, explaining that they “were never in any doubt whatsoever that the social workers concerned have acted honestly, appropriately and professionally at all times” and that they supported them, “even in the face of ill-informed press comment”. Explaining why they didn’t appeal the decision when they clearly didn’t accept the criticisms of their employees contained within it, they say that because the care orders they sought had been made, “there was no logic in appealing the outcome of the case which was made in the best interests of the children. Representations were made through other routes”. The only other available formal route we can think of is a complaint about the judge to the Judicial Conduct Investigation Office, but there is nothing on the JCIO website to suggest that such a complaint has been made and upheld (The JCIO generally only publish details of complaints upheld).
Whilst the logic behind Hampshire’s decision not to appeal is now clear, the question still remains : if The Family Court and the relevant regulatory body have reached apparently inconsistent / contradictory conclusions about the conduct of three social workers, should the public be enabled to understand why? We think there is a good public interest argument for saying that they should, and that it would be relatively easy for the HCPC to publish a short summary of the basis upon which they decided there was insufficient evidence of fitness to practice being impaired to form a basis for proceeding to investigate fully. Indeed, we wonder whether, if asked, the social workers in question might not willingly agree to such a summary being published in order that a fuller understanding of the circumstances is known by the public, who might otherwise remain concerned.
We also think that it would be useful if the PSA exercised their discretion to give guidance to the HCPC about how to deal with future cases of this sort, where an absence of published information might diminish public confidence in the work of the regulator and / or the Family Court.
We will share this blog post with the HCPC and PSA and report back if we hear further.
OPEN RESPONSE FROM THE HCPC
Our ref: FTP46185, FTP46186, FTP47251
16 February 2017
Dear Ms Reed
Thank you for copying to the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) the open letter you sent the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) on 10 February in relation to comments made in judgement in the Family Court in 2015 about three social workers – Ms Kim Goode, Ms Lisa Humphreys and Mrs Sarah Walker-Smart.
I can confirm that the HCPC was made aware of the Court’ s comments and that we investigated the concerns raised through our fitness to practise process. The purpose of this process is to protect the public from those who are not fit to practise. The legislation governing the HCPC’ s work – the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001 together with Rules made under the Order – makes provision for action to be taken where any allegation is made that a registrants fitness to practise is “impaired” . If a registrants fitness to practise is impaired, this means there are concerns about their ability to practise their profession safely and effectively.
It may help if I outline how the fitness to practise process operates. The process has three stages. The first stage is to consider any fitness to practise concerns that are raised with us against the requirements of our Standard of acceptance for allegations policy. If the Standard of acceptance is met, the second stage is that the matter is put before a panel of the HCPC’ s Investigating Committee to determine whether there is a “case to answer” . If there is a case to answer, the matter goes forward to a full hearing before a panel of the Conduct and Competence Committee.
While Conduct and Competence Committee hearings are normally held in public, the earlier stages of the fitness to practise process are dealt with as private matters. The legislation expressly requires the Investigating Committee to meet in private. Once a case to answer determination has been made, however, the allegation against the registrant is made public. Details of the allegation are published on the HCPC’s website four weeks before the date of the Conduct and Competence Committee hearing. More information about the HCPC’ s fitness to practise process can be found on our website at .
The Standard of acceptance for allegations is a public document. We have also produced a factsheet entitled “Standard of acceptance” explained. Both documents can be accessed on the HCPC’ s website at http://www.hcpc-uk.org/publications/policy/index.asp?id=529.
As the Standard of acceptance makes clear, fitness to practise allegations are made against only a small minority (consistently less than one per cent) of HCPC registrants. Investigating these allegations, though, is highly resource-intensive and it is important that we ensure finite resources are used effectively in protecting the public. The Standard of acceptance provides a safeguard against resources being diverted to investigating matters which do not give cause for concern that the registrant’ s fitness to practise may be impaired.
One of the requirements of the Standard of acceptance is that an allegation provides “credible evidence” suggesting that the registrant’ s fitness to practise is impaired. What we mean by credible evidence is explained in the Standard of acceptance document (at paragraph 3.5). To enable us to reach a considered conclusion on whether the Standard of acceptance is met we usually need to seek more information than was made available in the initial concerns referred to us. We obtain this additional information from all relevant sources. While I cannot make public the detail of the information we obtained in relation to the concerns about Ms Goode, Ms Humphreys and Mrs Walker-Smart, I can confirm that we followed our usual approach. On reviewing all the information obtained, including legal advice, we concluded in respect of each of them that the requirement for credible evidence of fitness to practise impairment was not met. This meant that we did not proceed to the second stage of the process.
I hope this reply, while not intended to replace the response you will be expecting from the PSA, is helpful in explaining the HCPC’ s fitness to practise process and the action we have taken following the Court’ s comments.
Head of Investigations