The Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) is the body which for the last few years has had responsibility for regulating social work in England.
It was not long ago – October 2017 to be precise - that I found myself feeling a glimmer of hope with regard to the HCPC. It seemed that there might be an embryonic recognition there that punishing people for errors made in good faith was a bad idea.
But the new year dawns with my hopes laid waste. Two recent HCPC tribunals seem to have continued in the established tradition of putting in the boot, instead of acting in ways consistent with creating safer services.
In one case a social worker for the elderly has been suspended for six months because, according to the HCPC her “…. assessment, the care plan, communication and record keeping fell far below what would be proper in the circumstances, and represents a serious departure from the standards expected of a registered social worker”.
In another case a children’s social work manager has been sanctioned for practice failings despite clear evidence of an inordinately heavy caseload, poor working conditions and inadequate management support.
These are not cases with which the regulator should be dealing. They are not cases of egregious behaviour. Rather they represent the failings of an overloaded system creaking under the pressure. The people concerned should not be blamed and punished. The systems under which they are working should be examined and improved. The causes of poor practice – not individual failings but systematic organisational weaknesses – need to be understood.
By making an example of hapless individuals, who happen to be caught out by the systems around them, the HCPC is doing nobody any favours. By stoking up the blame culture the net effect is to make services less safe and of lower quality. That’s because professionals who constantly feel under threat of unjust punishment will always find it hard to co-operate with others to uncover the true causes of poor services. And, as a result, those causes will continue to be undiscovered and unaddressed.