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September’s Medical Law News

Optimism over Social Work England reforms, a pharmacist is struck off, and the NMC’s report on whistleblowing

Each month, the team at Medic Assistance Scheme finds articles and stories from the past few weeks that will help medical practitioners to stay on top of fitness to practise trends in their profession. If you have concerns relating to anything you’ve read on our website, contact us today.

Optimism over Social Work England reforms

Sources: Community Care (5/9/2019)

In an extensive piece published early in September, Community Care lays out the changes that social workers can expect to see in fitness to practise proceedings from December. Social Work England will soon replace the HCPC as the social workers’ regulator and has promised changes to the current system, including a triage system to filter the complaints going through to investigations and a greater number of registered social workers involved at each stage. 

The authors feature quotes from a number of people in the profession, whose attitude towards the proposals is uniformly positive. Under the HCPC, fitness to practise proceedings were long, expensive and potentially harmful for registrants undergoing them. Proposals also include the desire for more local engagement to resolve complaints before they reach the hearing stage. Social Work England’s proposals aim to reduce time, cost and stress and to ensure that registrants are able to receive the fairest possible results. 

Our take

The sentiment expressed throughout this article and its comments is telling: social workers are eager for change and generally optimistic that Social Work England’s planned reforms are sound. In my experience as a medical lawyer, I have seen the toll that fitness to practise cases have on registrants, with respect to both their health and their financial situation. As such, any reduction in the length of cases and the number of complaints that proceed to hearings is welcome.

One quote in the article likened Social Work England’s task to having a “big tanker to turn around.” The reality of the situation is that any reforms will take time. We don’t yet know if Social Work England will be able to recruit enough social workers to bulk out its panels or if the triage system will work as planned. There needs to be buy-in from regional authorities and social workers themselves for these plans to work as Social Work England intends. Patience is going to be needed from social workers for a little while yet, but I share the profession’s broad optimism that positive changes are afoot.

eBay sales lead to pharmacy technician’s removal from the register

Sources: Chemist+Druggist (23/09/19)

A pharmacy technician has been struck off by the GPhC after pleading guilty to “fraud by abuse of position” at the Crown Court in 2018. Ms. Carla Louise Perkins admitted to selling up to £5,000 of items from the pharmacy on eBay without her employer’s permission. The behaviour was discovered in 2017 when a post office assistant working in the same shop noticed diabetes strips sticking out of a poorly wrapped package. Ms. Perkins originally denied the allegations, but later admitted to the sale of items without the pharmacy’s knowledge. The court ordered her to pay compensation and to carry out 140 hours of unpaid work.

The GPhC carried out its own investigation following the criminal proceedings and said that Ms. Perkins did not engage with them. Despite a previously unblemished record, the GPhC struck the technician off because of a failure “to act with honesty and integrity.” Ms. Perkins’ lack of engagement meant there was no expression of “remediation, insight or remorse” which led the GPhC to conclude that she must be removed as she posed a risk of re-offence and to the public’s perception of the profession.

Our take

Criminal proceedings directly related to a medical practitioner’s work are always going to be taken seriously by the regulator. In the case of Ms. Perkins, the consequences of her fitness to practise proceedings were exacerbated by her lack of engagement with the process. Despite receiving a criminal conviction, it may have been possible for her to continue practising had she shown sufficient remediation, insight or remorse. These, coupled with her previously unblemished record, may have been enough to convince the regulator that she posed no further risk to the profession.

There are no guarantees that engaging with the process would have changed the outcome for Ms. Perkins, but because there was no insight or remediation the outcome was a foregone conclusion. It is possible that engaging further in the short term may have given Ms. Perkins the opportunity to continue to practise in the long term.

Report shows NMC taking whistleblowing seriously

Sources: Nursing in Practice (13/09/19), GMC (11/09/19)

A recent report from healthcare regulators showed that the NMC dealt with all cases of whistleblowing disclosures by referring them to the fitness to practise process. Matthew McClelland, director of fitness to practise for the NMC, has said that the report shows how seriously the regulator takes whistleblowing disclosures. The same report revealed that 28 of the 33 disclosures made to the GMC’s fitness to practise team in the same time period resulted in fitness to practise proceedings.

Despite the apparent positives, whistleblowing charity Protect’s spokesperson cautioned the NMC, saying that statistics should be secondary to creating a culture in which staff feel able to speak up about wrongdoing. Speaking about their figures, the GMC said that the number of anonymous disclosures shows that work still needs to be done to show complainants that they are supported.

Our take

The new report shows the commitment of the NMC and GMC to their fitness to practise processes. The numbers do indicate that whistleblowers feel able to bring their concerns forward, though the GMC in particular noted that fear of reprisal may still exist for some.

It is also encouraging to see that not every disclosure needs to proceed to a full investigation if the matter can be concluded after an initial assessment (as was the case for 13 out of 33 of the GMC’s cases). The regulators need to find a balance between giving each referral the consideration it needs and in making a system that works for all involved. Investigations are often long, painful processes for the registrants involved, which means that due care does need to be taken before progressing a disclosure to this stage. To ensure that whistleblowing can remain a safe and effective way of raising a complaint, regulators need to ensure that their fitness to practise processes are robust enough to deal with referrals in the best way for all concerned.

Related services

The Medic Assistance Scheme’s lawyers can help medical professionals in many of the areas referred to in these news topics. See below for the services that relate to September’s stories:

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