I have made numerous posts over several years about the way in which the Health and Care Professions Council (the HCPC) deals with social workers. Too often, it seems to me, people who have made mistakes while otherwise acting in good faith, or people who have cut corners to get a job done in difficult circumstances, have been hauled up in front of the Council and punished, when reflection, learning, support and perhaps retraining would have been more appropriate responses.
In December 2016 I outlined a particularly dire example of an inappropriate referral to the HCPC. I drew the conclusion that that case had all the hallmarks of a blame-the-victim culture, in which people are left unsupported to struggle in impossible situations for which they are then held accountable. I asked how long it would be before the powers-that-be realise that blaming people is a very poor way to achieve greater safety or higher quality? And I pointed out that safer services are brought about by people feeling able to talk openly about the difficulties they have in coping with challenging situations, which does not happen if they think they will be punished for doing so.
So, I am very pleased to see in Community Care that the HCPC itself has now recognised that there is a problem in the way in which it deals with social workers and has commissioned research from the University of Surrey in order to try to understand what is happening.
It is reported that the research found that referrals concerning social workers constitute an unduly high proportion of the HCPC’s work and that they are often inappropriate. Social workers account for less than 30% of the HCPC’s regulated professionals, but more than half of all referrals to the Council concern social workers.
The researchers argue that social work suffers from a ‘blame culture’ and from ‘defensive practice’, with employers regularly referring concerns to the HCPC in order to maintain public credibility and protect themselves by “… ensuring ‘misconduct’ or ‘incompetence’ is seen to be dealt with at an individual level”. The researchers conclude that many social work referrals to HCPC would be better dealt with by employer support.
This is all music to my ears. I congratulate the HCPC on commissioning the research and look forward to it being taken forward in changes to practice and procedure.