Bristol social worker barred for serious breaches of professional standards

She was found to have seriously breached appropriate professional boundaries and standards, amounting to misconduct

A Bristol City Council social worker who tried to obtain a vulnerable woman’s bank PIN and let her own relatives get paid inappropriately by her for odd jobs has been barred from the profession.

Elaine Lillian McDowell also arranged an unnecessary emergency transfer, bypassing the necessary usual checks, from an extra care housing flat to a full-time nursing home that was not in the resident’s interests and compromised her dignity, before falsifying records to cover her tracks, a panel ruled.

The move happened so suddenly and to the surprise of care managers at Bluebell Gardens housing complex in Stockwood, where the woman was happy, that she was not even allowed to finish the meal she was eating, the fitness-to-practice hearing was told.

Ms McDowell was removed from the Social Work England register after being found to have seriously breached appropriate professional boundaries and standards, amounting to misconduct.

The panel’s report said that between June 2018 and February 2019 she visited the woman, who has since died, “far more frequently” than would be expected for an employee in the council’s discharge-to-assess team, which makes short-term interventions.

It ruled that the social worker allowed members of her family to get paid by the woman, Service User 1 (SU1), to provide support. This included her son or cousin moving furniture to Bluebell Gardens, her husband to put up curtains and her daughter to help with her shopping, for which she received £12 an hour in cash, the report said.

Ms McDowell lied to care staff when challenged about the fact that her daughter was one of the people giving the woman support, getting “angry” and denying it, before orchestrating the move out of the housing scheme to Hartcliffe Nursing Home just two days later, the report said.

According to care staff, the social worker was “looking worried” on February 20, 2019, and said “It’s not working here” for the resident, and that within 20 minutes she had removed the woman from the complex saying her boss had approved the transfer without the normal meeting between carers and family to discuss options.

The social worker then falsely recorded in the case notes that a capacity assessment was completed and the woman’s relatives had agreed to the move, which they had not and in fact found the placement “strange”.

The panel upheld an allegation that the then-council employee had asked the woman’s relative for her PIN as she was “concerned about an electricity bill” but they refused to give it after finding nothing unusual in her bank statement.

The report said: “The way in which she had executed the emergency transfer of SU1 had not been in the service user’s interests and had compromised the service user’s dignity.

“She had not sought to work collaboratively with other carers or to obtain appropriate consent and the records she had created in relation to the transfer were false in that they did not reflect what had actually occurred. They were liable to cause harm in future because they were seriously misleading.

“Ms McDowell had also seriously breached appropriate professional boundaries. She had visited SU1 far more frequently than was justified by her professional role and had obtained payment from SU1 for services provided by members of her own family.

“She had sought to obtain SU1’s PIN. In so doing she had departed from high standards of personal and professional conduct and had potentially exposed SU1 to unwarranted risks through the involvement of unauthorised individuals in her care.

“Finally, she had behaved dishonestly when challenged about her daughter’s involvement. In view of the false notes created by Ms McDowell this particular incident of dishonesty could not be regarded as an isolated, momentary lapse.”

It said the panel concluded that the social worker, who did not attend the week-long hearing earlier this month and was not represented, had “developed little, if any, insight into the significance of her misconduct and that the risk of repetition was high”.

“In these circumstances a finding of impairment is required to protect the public,” the report said. The ruling said she brought the profession into disrepute and breached a number of its “fundamental tenets” by placing “her own interests before the interests of SU1” and acting dishonestly.

“Ms McDowell’s misconduct was extremely serious in itself,” it said. “It involved the mistreatment of a vulnerable service user. This mistreatment included an inappropriate transfer from an environment in which the service user was happy to an environment which, evidence suggested, the service user was less happy and in circumstances where she was not permitted to finish a meal before being removed from Bluebell Gardens. It also involved dishonesty towards colleagues and the falsification of notes.”

It said the misconduct happened more than three years ago but Miss McDowell had resigned from her employment without taking part in a council inquiry, and there was no evidence of remorse.

“The panel decided that a removal order is the only outcome which is sufficient to protect the public, maintain confidence in the profession and maintain proper professional standards for social workers in England,” it added.