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Social worker who breached professional boundaries is struck off

HCPC strikes off social worker after he gave service user his telephone number, took him to Turkey then failed to comply with regulator following suspension

Published on 26th July 2019

A social worker who breached professional boundaries with a service user by giving him his phone number and taking him on holiday to Turkey has been struck off the HCPC register.

A previous HCPTS Panel suspended Mr Peter John Pike from the register for a 12 month period after they found he had given Service User A his phone number and took him to Turkey, paying for the holiday and sharing a room.

It also emerged that Mr Pike accessed Service User B's personal records on the RIO system without any professional reason to do so.

In December 2011, Mr Pike, a registered social worker, became a volunteer with Community Housing Aid, a homeless charity. He participated in their Nightstop scheme whereby volunteer hosts provided spare rooms for typically one or two nights to young people aged 16-25 who were at risk of homelessness.

Mr Pike's written response to his employer’s allegations stated: “I confirm that I gave Service User A my number, and that Night stop were aware of this as evidenced in Support visit notes 13th March 2012…Service User A had requested that I stay in touch with him when he went to Amber because he was fearful and anxious of running away from the project. Hence why my mobile number given, to try and support Service User A in remaining at placement, so that he would work through the difficulties and issues in his life.”

Mr Pike never denied taking Service User A on holiday to Turkey. When asked whether on reflection as a professional, he could see any concern others might have about him taking a vulnerable person on holiday with him, Mr Pike responded: "On reflection yes it was not my best decision. The intention was for Service User A to gain self-esteem and self-worth."

In terms of accessing Service User B's personal records, the first panel heard that Mr Pike had informed a Community Aid member of staff that he had looked Service User B up on a mental health database at work. The Panel recognised that Mr Pike had only been able to look up Service User B’s record by reason of his employment as a social worker, which meant that he had access to the record system. An audit of the system revealed that Mr Pike had accessed Service User B’s record on 28 September 2012 for 75 minutes. The audit detailed how long he had each document open.

Mr Pike's written response was that: “In relation to the breach of data protection…I state very clearly that I have no recall of this event. I also have no records available to establish how this error may have occurred… If I did make such an error then I can only sincerely apologise and reiterate that I have no recall of this event. The fact that the checks undertaken by Torbay’s IT services against all other names supplied to them by Nightstop, states their findings and is recorded in their report that there is no other evidence of other records having been accessed, clearly indicates that this was not a habitual activity.”

However, the panel did not find it credible that he could have accessed Service User B’s record for 75 minutes, and informed a Community Aid staff member that he had done so, but have no recollection of the matter.

The Panel noted the Registrant’s written representation to the HCPC that “to have had such an amazing career, for 27 years, with no complaints or concerns raised, I believe is testimony to my integrity, professionalism and compliance with frameworks of good practice.” It considered that Mr Pike's misconduct was remediable provided he is both willing and able, through careful and genuine reflection, to develop full insight into the unacceptability of his conduct, his personal responsibility for his actions and the potential impact of his failings on Servicer Users A and B, service users in general, colleagues, his employer and the public.

Suspending Mr Pike for 12 months, the final hearing panel said that a reviewing panel may be assisted by:

• Mr Pike's attendance at the review;
• A reflective piece completed by him, reflecting on his failings and the potential impact of those failings on Service Users A and B, service users in general, his colleagues and employer, and public confidence in the profession;
• Evidence that he has considered the August 2012 edition of the HCPC guidance document entitled “Returning to Practice”, together with evidence of any actions he has taken in response to that guidance, including evidence of training and keeping his skills and knowledge up-to-date;
• Testimonials or references from paid or unpaid work;
• Details of current employment detailing any remedial action he may have taken in order to avoid repetition of those failings in the future.

A review of the suspension was held in July. However, no response was received from Mr Pike. The reviewing panel said of particular relevance to them is whether the concerns raised in the original finding of impairment have been sufficiently addressed, with the burden on Mr Pike to demonstrate that he has fully acknowledged the deficiencies which led to the original finding and has addressed that impairment sufficiently.

"The Panel concluded that the failings identified by the previous panel considering this matter have not been addressed by the Registrant. He had submitted information to the HCPC in advance of the substantive hearing but was neither present nor represented at that hearing. He has not provided any information for consideration during this review, despite the previous panel setting out in detail the information which could assist such a reviewing panel. Given the lack of engagement, there is no evidence of insight or remediation, and the Panel considered there is a real risk of repetition if the Registrant were allowed to return to unrestricted practice," said the panel.

The Panel considered the seriousness of the misconduct and the guidance which the previous panel gave Mr Pike as to how to demonstrate that he has reflected on his failings or remediated his practice. The Panel considered whether a further Suspension Order would be appropriate. Mr Pike presented no information to the Panel, such as a reflective piece, which would demonstrate insight or remediation. He presented no information as to why he had not done so. The Panel was not persuaded that a further Suspension Order would serve any purpose, given the lack of engagement in the regulatory process by Mr Pike. The Panel considered that it would not be in the public interest or in Mr Pike's interest to maintain a cycle of mandatory reviews.

The Panel had regard to the consequential impact a Striking Off Order would have on Mr Pike, but concluded that his interests were outweighed by the Panel’s duty to give priority to the public interest and maintain confidence in the Regulator. It was satisfied that no lesser sanction order would be appropriate in the particular circumstances of this case.

Mr Pike was struck off the register.

 

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