When I offered to write about why I became a Buddy I thought hard and decided to start with a picture – before you wonder if I’m vain, the answer is far from it! What I wanted you to notice was my interesting head of white hair – I don’t often tell the story of “how it happened” – or at least not the whole truth: but here goes – my previously rather lovely charcoal grey hair “left” in the space of two weeks after the NMC charged me with dishonesty. I don’t have a dark hair in my head now – and haven’t done since June 20th 2019.
My hair literally fell out in handfuls. It had been down to my waist. I’d heard stories of course – I suppose we all have, but I never believed them – until it happened to me. This, for me, is the legacy of my investigation – and I’m reminded of it every time I look in the mirror.
It will be two years on June 3rd 2023 since I got “no case to answer” at my hearing – three and a half years – all but 14 days since I was first notified of the referral. The details are irrelevant – but my life unravelled. When I was told I had been referred, I was living on my own, caring for my daughter who has learning disabilities – and I had lost my mother (for whom I had been caring for five years) almost exactly six months previously. From both an emotional and financial point of view, times had been tough. Four weeks earlier, I had just managed to get a substantive post, after five years working as a locum in General Practice, because of my caring responsibilities – and Rachael and I had just moved out of our Council flat into our own home.
Suddenly everything was thrown into jeopardy. I struggled from day to day, week to week, and month to month. Everybody I spoke to told me that it wouldn’t get past screening. Initially they talked about imposing an “interim order” – I didn’t even know what one of those was – and NMC Watch didn’t exist then (as far as I knew). Nothing came of it. The RCN kept telling me not to worry – it wouldn’t go anywhere – it would get thrown out at screening – but then the Case Examiners added an additional charge of dishonesty. Even the RCN were devasted – because it meant the NMC were hell bent on striking me off – and it was all so trivial in their eyes: a simple lack of familiarity with a computer system – which I had always freely admitted. It wasn’t anything to do with patient safety or clinical competence – just templates and a fear of being locked out!
But for me the fear was far greater – as a church minister, our local press was going to seize on this one: I had nightmares about the headlines in the Liverpool Echo. My employer (an Orthodox Jewish gentleman) was totally supportive – the testimonials flooded in – twenty in all, each attesting to my integrity … my CPD portfolio grew to vast proportions. My ability to write reflections grew out of all proportion to the actual incident – and I endlessly replayed the events of that Saturday morning in my mind. In the end, writing them down was the only way out – and I recorded them like a television documentary – each fact and observation as it was etched on my mind, quite separately from the reflections and learning. It was a saving grace – both in terms of my sanity – and because my barrister loved it… I now recommend it sometimes to others.
He submitted it to the NMC alongside my final reflection.
My intrinsic honesty shone through.
The NMC submitted no case to answer and no impairment in practice.
Of course, by the end, I had found NMCWatch – then, I think, in its early days.
When the “Buddy” scheme was first mooted, I was keen to become involved – that didn’t happen immediately – partly because of work, and date clashes I think from memory – but I have been enthusiastic from the outset to be involved.
There is so much going on in people’s lives – so much in their settings, so much in their circumstance: so much more than “just” being referred…
I’ve picked some highlights in my story that cover a major bereavement, a change of job, professional isolation, a move of house, caring responsibilities that covered the circumstances that surrounded my referral – without mentioning that nine days after my hearing concluded, I got married – doesn’t life change!!
Life is not “on hold” – understanding all of this is part of the reason I became a Buddy – people have far worse experiences than I had – I know that – but they need a constant presence from someone who really does understand what it is to walk through “the Vale of the shadow of death” – whatever that looks like.
The “process” is interminable while you are in it – and the only light at the end of the tunnel can look like an oncoming train. We fear egress with a passion – and it really does feel like two steps forward and three back sometimes.
Writing reflections feels like a punitive exercise – and I am scarred for life. They have become not a developmental tool, but a fence to jump over: a means of discipline. That is NOT what they are for – and it is something I am still struggling to overcome (and I am now writing reflections in a different discipline and find I am frozen by fear at the prospect of doing them). I have five more to do before I revalidate next year – and I know that my last lot (while I was under investigation) were scrutinised by the NMC simply because of the length of time it took my revalidation to go through.
I can help – because I feel what you feel. I understand.
And there are perks – access to great training (free and interesting CPD feeds my “inner nerd”, meeting some lovely people (“my” registrants and the other buddies), expenses if you want them (I claim mine and donate them forward) – two lots of “Gift Aid” off the Government if you work it out!
I have always said (when asked – and I am) what makes me do what I do – “my vocation is to walk alongside others – and, if I can, kick the rocks out of their path” – well, “vocation” is an old-fashioned word in this brave new world of ours – but I think that sums up “why” I am a Buddy. It’s the very same thing that makes me a nurse.
I’m nothing special – believe you me: but I really treasure my role as a Buddy – if you think you could walk along that path of investigation with someone else now yours is over – then please consider joining us. You won’t regret it.