Case Summary – Nursing and Midwifery Council v Meethoo [2016] EWHC 4163 (Admin)

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High Level Summary

The Nursing and Midwifery Council made an application to the High Court to extend the interim order against registered nurse, Mr Meethoo for the ninth time.

The latest application for an extension was made on the basis that the NMC was putting its disciplinary investigation on hold until the conclusion of a coroner's inquest. A further 12 months extension was sought.  The Judge refused to grant the full 12 months and instead granted an extension for 6 months.  The Judgment in this case reiterates the sense of urgency that regulators should adopt when dealing with disciplinary investigations where interim orders are in place.

Background

The interim order imposed on Mr Meethoo's registration was done so in September 2013. Mr Meethoo was subject to Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) fitness to practise proceedings following an incident when he was the nurse with responsibility for the care for a patient with mental health difficulties. The patient required 15 minute supervisory intervals. It is alleged that Mr Meethoo failed to maintain the necessary level of supervision and the patient committed suicide. Further to this, Mr Meethoo is also alleged to have falsified documents concerning performance of the supervision.

Mr Meethoo was subject to criminal proceedings and was acquitted following a crown court trial in April 2015. The NMC's fitness to practise proceedings were put on hold until the conclusion of the trial.  The NMC then discovered that a coroner's inquest was taking place regarding the patient's death and took the view that the fitness to practise proceedings should again be put on hold until the conclusion of the inquest.

The NMC sought to apply for a 12 month extension to Mr Meethoo's interim order.

Judgment

Handed down by Mr Brennan QC sitting as a Deputy Judge.

The Deputy Judge made specific reference to the NMC's reasons for delay:

"The NMC has learned that there is to be a coroner's inquest into the death of the deceased in April 2016. The NMC has taken the view that this requires or at any rate justifies putting their investigation of professional disciplinary proceedings against Mr Meethoo on hold again. This is on the basis, I am told, that something relevant of some unspecific kind might perhaps be discovered in the course of the coroner's inquest. In other words, the NMC are seeking a 12 month extension of the order so that they can postpone the disciplinary hearing in a case something turns up at the inquest."

The Deputy Judge was clearly unimpressed with the NMC's reasoning but continued to balance this carefully against the need for the interim order to remain to protect the public.  In his judgment it was unsatisfactory that the NMC was applying for an extension as long as 12 months in this case.  The Deputy Judge went on to say:

"In my judgement, the NMC should now be proceeding with a greater degree of urgency than it is currently showing and should move to bring the disciplinary proceedings to a conclusion. The mere possibility that something might be disclosed in the inquest which was not discovered the purposes of the criminal prosecution does not, in my judgment, justify putting the disciplinary proceedings on hold in the way in which the NMC proposes to do." 

The Judge therefore granted an extension of the interim order but only for 6 months.