The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Darzi of Denham): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State, Department of Health (Andy Burnham) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The General Social Care Council (GSCC) is the professional regulatory body for social workers in England and has statutory responsibility for investigating complaints against social workers. In June, the Department of Health became aware that a backlog of conduct referrals had developed at the GSCC and liaised with GSCC to determine the scope and nature of the problem.
On 2 July, Ministers were alerted as the GSCC had identified a backlog in the management of 203 complaints against social workers registered with them. Ministers were very concerned about any risk to the public and met with the chair and chief executive of the GSCC on 6 July to seek reassurances from them. The council reported that there were 21 cases where the allegations, though unproven, suggested that there could have been an ongoing risk of harm to members of the public.
Ministers asked the council to ensure that urgent action was taken to address any potential threat to public safety that could arise if these individuals were continuing to work as social workers, by establishing their whereabouts, to ensure that any who were still in employment were being safely and appropriately managed while the allegations were investigated. GSCC has been working to ensure that any employers of these individuals are aware of the allegations made and to ensure that the individuals concerned have not sought employment elsewhere.
On Friday 17 July, the department received information from the GSCC regarding all 21 cases. The GSCC confirmed that either the individuals concerned are employed as social workers by known employers who are aware of the allegations that have been made and are managing any risks or, as far as the council can ascertain, they are not currently employed as social workers.
In the light of Ministers’ concerns around public safety, my officials facilitated a team to work with GSCC to ensure that all cases in the backlog were reviewed to determine if any were high risk. Following this review, a small number of other cases have been identified which are being investigated. Ministers are seeking urgent further assurances that every possible step has now been taken to ensure that none of these individuals present a current risk.
In all cases where the GSCC has assessed that there may be a potential ongoing risk, panels are scheduled to have met by Friday 24 July to consider the imposition of an interim suspension order on the individual in question pending the outcome of the GSCC's investigations.
The fact that a backlog of conduct referrals, some of which had not been adequately risk assessed, has built up is a matter of extreme concern. We understand that GSCC has therefore suspended its chief executive while it looks into how the issue arose.
As an interim measure, Paul Philip, currently deputy chief executive at the General Medical Council is joining GSCC as acting chief executive.
The Department of Health is today commissioning the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence to carry out a wide-ranging review of the governance and performance of the GSCC. The purpose of the review is to establish what further action is needed to ensure that Ministers, Parliament and the public can have confidence that the GSCC is effectively carrying out its statutory duties to promote high standards of conduct and practice in order to protect the public. The GSCC supports the review, which will report to Ministers by the end of September.
Hansard, 20th July 2009.