Ward v Nursing & Midwifery Council [2014] EWHC 1158

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The Appellant appealed against a decision of the Nursing and Midwifery Council ("the NMC") that she should be struck off the nursing register.

The Appellant was referred to the NMC by her employer following a number of incidents raised whilst she was employed by them.

The Appellant appealed against the decision made by the NMC on six grounds:

  1. Proceeding with the hearing in her absence;
  2. Admitting hearsay evidence in the form of two witness statements;
  3. Making the findings of fact they did make;
  4. Making a finding of misconduct;
  5. Making a finding of impairment; and
  6. Imposing a striking off order.
  7. The appeal would be dismissed.

The Court held that although the discretion to commence a hearing in the absence of a party should be exercised with caution, the panel's decision to do so was not wrong.

The Appellant did not attend day one of the hearing due to a medical appointment. The panel adjourned until the following day to give the Appellant an opportunity to attend. The Appellant did not attend on day two or any subsequent days as she said that health concerns prevented her from doing so.  The Appellant provided no medical evidence in support of her absence and the panel considered that she had voluntarily absented herself. 

In relation to the second ground of appeal, the Appellant submitted that it was unfair for two witness statements to be admitted. The key issue here was establishing the 'fairness' of admitting the hearsay evidence. The Court held that the panel had taken account of all relevant factors, including the fact that this was not the only evidence in relation to the charge and was not core evidence to the main issue.

There was no basis for suggesting that the panel's decision was wrong, unfair or unjust.

In relation to the third ground of appeal, the Court followed the approach of Lord Thankerton in Thomas v Thomas [1947] AC 484 and confirmed that the Court was unlikely to interfere with the findings of fact of a disciplinary tribunal unless they are clearly wrong or have been made in the face of serious procedural irregularity. This was not the case here.

The fourth and fifth grounds of appeal were on the basis that had the panel made the correct findings of fact, she would not have been found guilty of misconduct and therefore that her fitness to practise was impaired.

These grounds failed for the same reasons as the third. In this case, the decision of the panel was correct and the Court held that it will show considerable deference to findings of a professional disciplinary panel given that such bodies are best placed to judge appropriate standards for the relevant profession.

The final ground was in relation to the sanction issued. The Court held that the primary objective of imposing a sanction was to protect the public interest by maintaining a certain standard of the profession. The impact on the practitioner is relevant and the sanction must be proportionate; however, this is not a primary consideration.

Despite the fact that the Appellant would suffer financial hardship as a result of the decision, the care she had offered to patients was dishonest, far below the standards expected of a registered nurse and jeopardised the wider public interest.

The sanction was proportionate.