Social work regulator is suspended over case backlog
The chief executive of the organisation responsible for regulating social workers was yesterday suspended over a backlog of cases, including allegations against professionals working with children.
Mike Wardle, who has led the General Social Care Council (GSCC) for the last two years, was sent home by the council’s governing body while an investigation is held into management of the backlog and failure to act against 22 social workers in cases where there was “ongoing risk of harm”.
Paul Philip, deputy chief executive of the General Medical Council, the doctors’ regulatory body, has been brought in to run the GSCC on an interim basis.
The GSCC has been struggling to cope with a growing number of referrals since the Baby P case in Haringey, north London, raised awareness of potential failures by social workers. The organisation first reported problems to ministers in March and has been given extra funding, albeit less than it requested.
Wardle’s suspension has arisen over how the backlog has been handled, after it emerged that some of the pending cases had not been adequately risk-assessed.
A GSCC spokeswoman said a total of 203 cases had been identified that “needed to have been progressed more quickly”. These had been investigated and the social workers involved had been suspended in 12 instances where there were serious allegations giving rise to ongoing risk of harm, with a further 10 interim suspensions pending.
Some of the suspensions concerned social workers dealing with children, the spokeswoman confirmed.
In all cases involving serious allegations, the GSCC has informed the relevant local authorities. They may already have acted to suspend the social workers from their posts, where relevant.
As well as ordering an investigation into management of the backlog, the GSCC’s governing body has asked the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence – the regulator of regulators – to carry out a review of the social work conduct function.
Rosie Varley, GSCC chair, said: “The protection of people using social care services is of paramount importance, and we are absolutely committed to doing everything within our powers as the workforce regulator to address misconduct and ensure the highest standards of practice.”
In a Commons written statement confirming the developments, the health secretary, Andy Burnham, said: “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.”
The GSCC started to register social workers in 2003, after the government agreed to the idea of regulation of the profession. It now regulates all social workers and students and is starting to extend its remit to social care workers who visit people’s homes.
Since the Baby P episode, the GSCC has each week been receiving 80-90 referrals of allegations against social workers or students.
Wardle was deputy chief executive of the GSCC before being appointed to the top job. He was previously a civil servant, including spells as principal private secretary to David Blunkett and Estelle Morris when they were secretaries of state for education.