Colum Conway, chief executive, Social Work England on tackling fitness to practise backlogs, refreshing CPD and what business as usual looks like. 

Community reported that Social Work England still “does not know what a business as usual year looks like”, its chief executive has said after it launched its business plan for 2021-22. 

“We’ve faced challenges in our fitness to practise function.”

Mr Conwy said Social Work England “faced challenges in our fitness to practise function, both in the significant number of complex cases we inherited and the considerable number of new cases. In fitness to practise, our learning is helping us to continually improve, and we are focused on managing both the level of caseloads and the quality of outcomes. 

The business plan sets out ambitions to make SWE’s fitness to practise process “responsive, collaborative and proportionate.” 

“In our first year of delivering fitness to practise, we’ve faced multiple challenges, both in the number of cases we have and in how we investigate during a pandemic.

“The caseload we inherited from the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) in December 2019 was much greater and more complex than we had anticipated. Additionally, there has been a significantly higher number of concerns raised throughout the year than expected, particularly from members of the public. 

“The disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic also meant that the most challenging and complex cases that usually require face-to-face hearings were not possible for the majority of our first year. In taking forward cases remotely, our support to those involved in hearings has had to increase. The pandemic has also impacted services across the social work sector, and created a more challenging environment to collaborate with employers and social workers during the investigation stages. These factors meant that we required more resource than we had planned for.” 

Mr Conwy said a “key focus for the coming year is to understand why the number of referrals being made is higher than anticipated based on previous data.” 

“This year, we will aim to reduce the time taken to resolve investigations by actively reducing caseloads, realising further efficiencies in the service, and making effective use of the case disposal options given in our legislation.

“We will use the intelligence gained from our first year to enhance understanding of risk, severity and public interest when applying our decision-making tests.”

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