First published 19 Aug 2017 by Cathryn Watters.
“Order Revoked with Immediate Effect”
After the success of my appeal, you will have read that the story doesn’t end there. You would assume that the High Court Supersedes any other organisation but as I couldn’t prove any unlawful wrongdoing by the NMC the 2-month suspension order that the judge imposed from the appeal date had to be reviewed prior to expiry by the NMC.
So … yesterday I returned to the foreboding building at 61 Aldwych, the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach returning as I took the silent lift up to the NMC and the memories of my horrendous week in February came flooding back. However, this time I felt more in control, certainly more able to maintain composure and a unique feeling that the ball was nearly in my court. Having the High Court decision behind me gave no guarantees as the panel are still allowed to make their own independent judgment or ruling, however, I knew that they would have to have pretty strong reasoning to go against Justice Cheema-Grubb! Justice Grubb – her name will be forever remembered as the first person in all this process to show humanity and compassion and basic common sense. She had many things to say but in her summing up there were some interesting points:
A key factor in the panels’ decision-making was that I showed a lack of insight or remorse into my actions as I continued to deny the charges and allowed themselves justification for what they moved on to decide. They had 2 whole days to observe me and come to this conclusion, Justice Grubb met me for approximately 2 hours and concluded;
“Having heard the appellant ( that’s me!) present this appeal, it is quite clear to this court that the appellant does exhibit remorse and does have insight …Furthermore the long history of this appellant’s good conduct and commendable nursing employment should have caused the Panel to think twice before reaching the conclusion that she demonstrated no insight.””…I observe that the appellant did express remorse in her evidence at the sanctions stage of the hearing and the panel should not have implicitly rejected that remorse.”
I put my appeal forwarded on a number of points but essentially it was focused on the excessiveness of the sanction and how disproportionate it was to the accusations:
“… the court agrees with the appellant that striking off was a disproportionate and excessive penalty… it seems to the court that the panel jumped to a striking off without properly putting into context the dishonesty that it had found.”
I also argued that the panel failed in their duty of care as they held no weight on the impact such a sanction would have as they follow the guidance that the need to protect the public outweighs the needs of the individual. They failed to deviate from this guidance and Justice C-G found;
“She has suffered considerable under the findings of the panel and the damage to her reputation and her sense of self worth is profound.”
As with a case heard earlier in the year, mine highlighted that the guidance the panel use is too broad and classes all levels of dishonesty in one heap, without any ability to apply reason or sense. However other panels have used the guidance differently and used their own judgement to class the severity which shows there is no consistency between the panels and what they can decide. The High Court Judge stated;
“If the ISG ( that’s the guidance the panels use to determine their judgements ) had been a little more detailed, a little more nuanced and considered the broad spectrum of dishonesty misconduct in a little more detail, in my judgement it is highly unlikely that this appellant would have had to suffer the months that she has since the Panel’s determination until today.”
“I am sure the observations of Justice Kerr will be taken back and for what it is worth please underline to those instructing you that I echo those. It seems to me that the time has come for some greater clarity on the guidance for Panels where dishonesty is an issue…”
So the panel had 3 options:
- To Allow the suspension put in place by Justice Cheema-Grubb to just lapse on expiry and return me to the register
- To revoke the suspension and allow me to return to practice immediately
- To do something else.
On entering the hearing yesterday the mood of the room was completely different. The previous panel of grey-suited males had been replaced with 3 professional women – two of which were nurses and I immediately was put at ease when they began to talk. Their approach was neutral but fair, human and polite, with a very different feel to it than the original hearing which only had one thing missing to make it complete – a firing squad! There was still the legal speak which confused me once again but generally, it was an efficient process and very different from previous encounters. My lawyer went out on a limb and pushed hard for option number 2 to be taken and she was right. This panel, it seems, were 100% human and you could sense a feeling that they were as frustrated by my case as I was. The Legal Assessor was as professional as the one at my previous hearing but reminded them that they could indeed make their own judgement but with caution to take heed of Justice Grubb. My original hearing took 3 days, yesterday took approximately 3 hours in total and they concluded to take option number 2 – I could have kissed them all!!!
It’s been a year and a half of my life that has changed me forever but in my usual way, I will not allow it to be wasted or be tied up in bitterness. As our profession teaches us we learn and move on, that’s what we do and I have learnt a lot.
Whilst I was waiting to go into the hearing I got to know a lady and her husband who were at the beginning of their journey. The utter devastation on her face and sheer hopelessness was so readable that even before we spoke I knew she was where I was in February. We talked and I gave her my story, which was very similar to hers, she faced a 37-year career in ruins over a non-clinical issue. She was in the place that I understood only too well of wanting to just walk away and felt enormously betrayed and let down by the profession that she had dedicated her life to. We talked and talked, the relief on her husband’s face was visible as he could share with Andrew their joint pain of observing their loved one go through something they could do nothing about. We exchanged contact details and I hope she will let me support her through her journey, whatever she decides.
Thousands of nurses go through this every year, each one’s hearing will cost up to £13,000 and will contribute to the recently reported 20% fall in more nurses leaving the profession than joining it – the real cost of Fitness to Practice. Many of those going through FTP won’t fight back, because they feel they can’t, are too scared to do so or don’t know how – that needs to change. Many are not as lucky as me, they do not have wonderfully supportive friends and family to help them get through it and sadly because of this, some have even taken their own lives as a result. Even though we got a good conclusion in the end, I am not the same nurse that I was before this and will forever be looking over my shoulder and in constant fear of making a mistake. As I completed the re-registration forms today to ensure my PIN is returned swiftly, I checked and checked and checked that all the information was correct and still even though I was 100% sure it was I got Andrew to check it too, a nagging thought in the back of my head that I may click the wrong box or write the wrong date in and be called in front of a panel again on the assumption that I am trying to deceive. I have a supportive employer is ready to take me back as soon as my PIN is released from death row. I know that they will look after me and ensure I am not put in any situation that may set me back. But what for those nurses who aren’t as lucky as me, that are working in environments that aren’t supportive or even can’t get employment because of what is on their record and no one is willing to take a chance on them? The process changes you from confident to fearful and a little paranoid. It destroys the intuitive approach that you have taken before and means that everything you do from here onwards will be provable, which sadly means that you will give a little less of yourself in future.
The process is necessary for sure, but there have to be better checks and balances before such heavy sanctions are put in place and it is not left to 3 individuals to make assumptions and decisions that can destroy lives. I’m not sure if I will take part in any more work to try to make this change, I am realistic that I need caution and ensure there is nothing done that could risk me being in front of the NMC again as next time I won’t be able to fight. We are carers and this means we should equally be caring for our colleagues as we do our patients. I try to teach my children to stand up to bullies but also know when to walk away from a fight. I can’t live in fear of my regulator, but equally have to respect that it is what it is and some things you can’t change. So, I will be open and honest when asked and s anyone I meet along the way I will try to help and share what I have learnt so they can make informed decisions to get the best outcome for them. Some will decide to walk away and that’s ok as there were many times when I nearly did, but hopefully, some will feel they can learn from my case and use it to help empower theirs.
I am told that my case has set precedent on many levels – that’s the first positive change – time will tell what this means in reality. But for me, it has closed this episode in my life positively and means I can move on.
Suddock, Lusinga and me – nurses who have all had small victories against the Goliath of a regulator, it’s going to take a few more though.