Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care v Social Work England & Anor [2023] EWHC 2125 (Admin) (18 August 2023), concerns a decision taken on 5 October 2022 by a Panel of Adjudicators (“the Panel”) of Social Work England (“SWE”). The Panel decided that (i) the fitness to practise of MDR (a social worker) was impaired by reason of misconduct and (ii) a five-year warning should be imposed as a sanction.

The Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care (“PSA”) referred the Panel’s decision to the High Court on a number of grounds of appeal. The key challenge is to the scope of the Panel’s findings about MDR’s impaired fitness to practise.

The Panel concluded that a finding of impaired fitness to practise was necessary (i) to promote and maintain public confidence in the social work profession and (ii) to promote and maintain proper professional standards. However, it concluded that a finding of impairment was not necessary to protect, promote and maintain the health, safety and wellbeing of the public.

The PSA contends that the Panel’s failure to find that fitness to practise was impaired on this third ground was wrong and irrational. PSA submits that, had the Panel made such an additional finding, the Panel would have imposed a suspension from Practice rather than a warning.

PSA submits further that the Panel’s decision contains inconsistencies and illogicality in its reasoning, leading to flaws in its conclusion on sanction which require this court’s intervention.

SWE conceded the appeal, but MDR resists the appeal on a number of grounds. Mrs Justice Farbey allowed the appeal.  She remitted the matter to a differently constituted panel, saying:
It would be tempting to say that only one reasonable conclusion may be reached in light of the Panel’s unimpeachable findings that the three serious Allegations were proven: that this court should substitute its own decision and impose a one-year suspension. I have, however, decided that the better course is to remit the case to a Panel for fresh findings on sanction. I have decided to take this course because, despite her current lack of insight, it is conceivable that a Panel may properly conclude that MDR’s impairment is not such as to justify the risk of deskilling a social worker who has in so many ways contributed to the public good by long professional service.
I have reached this conclusion on the facts of this case because of the strong professional references from various different sources that were before the Panel. I make it clear however that MDR should not minimise the hurdles that she must surmount to persuade the Panel not to suspend her.

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