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BASW cautions social workers on whistleblowing as Winterbourne social worker is struck off

Winterbourne View social worker Brian Clarke has been struck off the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) Register for his part in failing to act on repeated alerts about the treatment of service users at the hospital.

Immediately after the conclusion of the HCPC hearing BASW cautioned social workers of their duty to blow the whistle on service user abuse or neglect, or to notify their union or professional association.

The HCPC Conduct and Competence Committee heard that Brian Leslie Clarke “failed to act on a number of alerts about the treatment of service users, including those from visiting care professionals and NHS Plymouth”. The committee also concluded that Clarke failed to ensure investigations were carried out in a timely manner or to ensure that service users were interviewed.
In a statement the HCPC said: “The Panel further heard that Brian Leslie Clark did not arrange a safeguarding strategy meeting for three months after receiving a whistleblowing alert from a Charge Nurse at the Hospital. He also failed to make links between the incidents in the alert to the other incidents he was aware of at the Hospital.”
A detailed analysis of the HCPC’s findings was not made available but a serious case review earlier in the year was critical of both the Care Quality Commission for failing to act on a number of complaints.

The review also singled out the local Safeguarding Team, managed by Mr Clarke, for criticism, after failing to respond sufficiently or quickly enough to reports of neglect and abuse. The SCR made reference to the overstretched workforce at Winterbourne View and how Castlebeck, the private equity company behind the hospital, appeared to prioritise profit over care.

Professional Officer Joe Godden said social work should not be scapegoated for the failings at the hospital but that social workers had a professional responsibility to highlight malpractice and to expose situations where a lack of time or resources left vulnerable people open to harm.

Mr Godden commented: “The BASW Code of Ethics and the HCPC Standards of Proficiency and Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics put a duty on social workers to challenge bad practice and report it.

“Where inadequate resources are an issue and social workers feel that unsafe practice could emerge as a result then managers must be challenged. The causes of the Winterbourne View tragedy are a complex web and while much of the blame must be put on Castlebeck, social workers do have a duty of care and it is right that social work in England has an independent regulator in the HCPC to look at breaches of that obligation.

“BASW’s advice to all social workers is that they must consider whether they are following the BASW Code of Ethics and the HCPC Standards of Proficiency and if they are not because of resource constraints then they need to raise this with their managers and seek advice from the Social Workers Union.”

Commenting on the decision to remove Mr Clarke from practice, and impose a temporary suspension order to cover the appeal period, Panel Chair Nicola Bastin said: “Although the Panel does not feel able positively to conclude that there would have been no further abuse even if Mr Clarke had not defaulted in the respects found, nevertheless in failing to discharge his duties … opportunities were missed to remedy the failings at the hospital and it inevitably follows that the service users were left at risk of suffering further abuse.

“As a very experienced and senior safeguarding practitioner Mr Clarke clearly knew what was required … The Panel has seen limited evidence of insight on the part of Mr Clarke into the extent and nature of his failings.”

Mr Clarke was not present at the hearing but has the right to appeal.

Summing up the implications of the case, BASW's Joe Godden said: "There is no doubt that increasing cuts, new areas of commissioning and finite resources are having a direct impact on the delivery of services, however the principles of BASW Code of Ethics, a duty of professional care to the vulnerable adults that social workers serve and reporting and escalating all safeguarding concerns is critical to upholding professional social work standards."