Social Work England has adopted a new process within its fitness to practise procedures which we refer to as ‘accepted outcomes’. Under this process, Case Examiners can decide that the facts of a case are likely to be found proved by a panel of adjudicators and that those adjudicators are also likely to find that the facts amount to misconduct and that the social worker’s fitness to practise is impaired. The case examiners can then invite the social worker to accept a sanction which addresses the impairment without the matter being heard in public by a panel.
This is a new process. The Government proposes to enable the other Health and Social Care regulators to have similar powers. We carried out a review of the process because (a) it was new and (b) to identify any learning for the regulators.
We looked at 41 cases (the entire group disposed of under this process by SWE in 2020):
There are a number of positive things about the new process, particularly, its speed and ability to deal with relatively simple cases fairly and appropriately. We were also impressed by the serious approach SWE has taken to addressing our concerns.
Our top three takeaways from the report – where we think more consideration needs to be given – are:
The process worked well for simple cases where the facts were clear and uncontested. It saved time and reached outcomes which were clearly appropriate. It was particularly appropriate for cases where the registrant’s health was a concern. The good decisions were robust, well-argued and clearly protected the public.
There are some cases which are unsuitable for this process and we were concerned that the Case Examiners did not always identify that this was the case and reached decisions that might not have been sufficient to protect the public. This is concerning because these are final decisions in respect of serious matters and there is no means of review.
There is a danger that registrants who are not represented may agree to more serious outcomes than would have been the case if they had had the matter heard by panels. There is a danger that this may lead to perceptions that the system is unfair.
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