An experienced social worker has been suspended for 12 months for copying eight DoLS (Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards) assessments from forms completed for other service users.
The decision and reasons of a fitness to practise panel said the social worker had been employed for 25 years by the same council in Adult Services until he resigned in February 2018. He worked in the Complex Learning Disability Team for approximately ten years before his resignation.
He was registered with the Health and Care Professions Council and in 2015 qualified as a Best Interests Assessor (BIA).
In his role as a BIA he was allocated one DoLS assessment each month for a service user. The purpose of a DoLS Assessment Form 3 is to determine whether a service user can consent to care and treatment and whether they are being deprived of their liberty.
In November 2016 a concern was raised with the DoLS team that a Form 3 assessment completed by the social worker was copied from another DoLS assessment completed by a different BIA.
An audit was carried out in April 2017 of the Form 3s the social worker had completed for the service users allocated to him. The audit revealed the forms for eight service users were identical in various parts and were not all relevant to the individual service users.
In cross examination the Interim Service Manager for the Complex Learning Disability Team accepted that the local authority had faced a significant backlog of DoLS assessments to carry out and that this had created a lot of pressure on BIAs. A rota had been set up to help deal with the workload but after an initial period this had stopped. It was unclear to the manager when this had happened.
When asked why he had copied parts of other service user documentation onto the forms he was required to complete, the social worker told the fitness to practise committee that he had used a “stock template” which he then completed.
He said he thought this was acceptable and that his main focus had been on the capacity assessment section of each form which involved him meeting the service user and their family members. He considered this aspect to be the most important part of the assessment.
The social worker stated that in retrospect his actions were unacceptable and that he recognised, by copying and pasting from other forms, he had placed the service users at risk of harm.
He told the hearing that there had been no financial or personal gains from his actions which he described as “unprofessional, stupid, naïve and potentially put service users at risk of being unlawfully deprived of their liberty”.
He agreed that by doing what he did, he saved himself time and the information was incorrect. He maintained that he had not acted dishonestly. He told the panel that he thought other BIAs were completing forms in the same fashion including user’s assessments and, at the time, he thought that this was acceptable.
Accepting that this was unacceptable and unprofessional, the social worker said he wanted to return to social work in the future but he did not intend to work as a BIA again.
The panel found that:
- It considered the social worker to be “largely credible”.
- There were parts of the forms where it was obvious that the passages that had been copied and pasted word for word and were specific to an individual and could not be regarded as general statements or comments which could be applicable to any service user. In three different forms a response was recorded from the service users as “I’ve no idea” and when asked again they were said to have responded “with a shrug of her shoulders". The panel said it was "inconceivable" that each individual would have answered and responded in exactly the same way.
- Not only had the social worker copied and pasted the same passages onto each form but, in doing so, he had provided incorrect and misleading information.
- The panel considered that the social worker had plagiarised large aspects of the forms, with wholesale movement of information from one service user to another. These contained inaccurate information including comments attributed to them, incorrect assessment in things such as communication and wrong historical backgrounds including information about past safeguarding issues. The justification for the ultimate decision was copied almost in its entirety.
- An ordinary and decent person would conclude, notwithstanding the social worker’s belief, that his actions were dishonest. In reaching this conclusion the panel noted that the social worker was experienced and had undergone specific BIA training, as well as ongoing training during and after his qualification as a BIA, including correct completion of a Form 3.
- The fact that the forms themselves required to be signed by the BIA left no doubt as to the need for accuracy and the recording of correct information in relation to the relevant service user.
- By copying information from other service users into forms for the relevant service users, the social worker had acted in a dishonest manner which did not respect the privacy and dignity of any of the service users, whether in having such information copied into other forms or, in having such false and incorrect information given on those forms. By doing so the social worker failed to take appropriate and reasonable steps to reduce the risk of harm that was potentially caused to all the service users.
- By acting in such a dishonest manner the social worker failed to justify the public trust placed in him and the profession generally. By completing the forms as he did, he failed to make clear and accurate records as expected of a social worker.
- The social worker’s acts fell significantly short of the expected standards and that his behaviour was so serious it amounted to misconduct.
- It was not satisfied that the social worker had full insight. It took account of his written reflection but considered this was lacking in genuine remorse for the service users, their families and his colleagues. The panel noted that both in his oral evidence and written reflection he sought to blame a lack of supervision and how he followed other colleagues’ practice rather than take full responsibility for his own actions as an autonomous professional.
- The social worker’s fitness to practise was currently impaired on both public protection and public interest grounds.
The panel considered that in all the circumstances the appropriate and proportionate sanction was a 12-month suspension order. 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 panel considered the imposition of a removal order but did not consider it to be necessary, appropriate or proportionate at this time.