R (on the application of Nursing and Midwifery Council) v Wright [2014] EWHC 3078 (Admin)

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R (on the application of Nursing and Midwifery Council) v Wright - The Court refused to grant the Nursing and Midwifery Council's request for a six month extension of an Interim Suspension Order. This was on the grounds that there had been a considerable delay in the proceedings and no due consideration of workable interim conditions of practice was given. Robinson J also makes an interesting point that as the respondent's case was referred to the Health Committee, it was clearly the NMC's intention that the respondent would be able to practice again as a striking off order is not an available sanction to that Committee. 

Facts

The Nursing and Midwifery Council ["NMC"] received a referral from Malmesbury Primary Care Centre regarding the respondent on 19 February 2013.

The respondent had been employed at the Malmesbury Primary Care Centre since 2007. On 31 January 2013 a practice nurse noted that a patient had incorrectly been allocated codeine phosphate medication by the respondent. The respondent claimed that the allocation had been an error and that she would put the medication into the "Africa" (charity donation) box. However when the practice nurse checked the box later that day, the medication was not there.

The respondent eventually admitted to stock piling her own medication due to an episode of depression and was subsequently dismissed from her role for gross misconduct and a referral was made to the NMC.

On 18 March 2013 the Investigating Committee ["IC"] imposed an Interim Suspension Order upon the respondent for 18 months.  Following an investigation, on 12 September 2013 the IC decided that there was a case to answer and referred the matter before the Conduct and Competence Committee ["CCC"].  On 9 December 2013 a decision was made by the CCC that the matter was to be dealt with by way of meeting; however on 14 January 2014 this decision was reversed. It appears there was some ambiguity over whether the respondent accepted the charges brought against her.

A panel of the CCC was scheduled to hear the matter on 18-19 August 2013. However following an admission of the facts and the submission of a GP report by the respondent, a decision was made by the CCC to refer the case before a panel of the Health Committee ["HC"]

An application to the High Court for an extension of the 18 months Interim Suspension Order was sought for a further 6 months by the NMC under Article 31(8) of the Nursing and Midwifery Order [2001].  The court allowed a further extension of one of two months with strict conditions attached.

Judgment

Handed down by Alice Robison J

The court followed the principles as set out in General Medical Council v Hiew [2007] EWCA Civ 369 which are as follows;

  1. "That the court does not act by way of judicial review but considers itself whether an extension of time is appropriate";
  2. "the criteria which the court should apply are the same as those for the original interim order"; and
  3. "the court should take into account matters such as the gravity of the allegations, the nature of the evidence, the seriousness of risk of harm to patients, reasons why the case has not been concluded and the prejudice to the practitioner if the interim order is continued".

Robinson J looked at the reasons delivered by both the IC and CCC for the Interim Suspension Order. Robinson J contemplated why the CCC panel had not considered an Interim Conditions of Practice Order and she stated that the reasons provided by the CCC were "in themselves subject to potential criticism". She then focused on the recent decision to refer the case before a panel of the HC. 

Robinson J felt that there was no evidence that the suspension of the respondent's ability to practise as a nurse was necessary for the protection of the public. This was due to both the facts of the case and the decision taken by the NMC to refer the respondent to the HC. Robinson J commented on the latter point as follows; the "NMC has effectively taken a decision that it will permit Mrs Wright to continue practising as a nurse eventually; it is difficult to see why those concerns justify her continued suspension from practice". It was further stated that the respondent had made a significant improvement to her mental health, although not completely, as not to justify a further six months suspension from practice. For these reasons Robinson J concluded that "given the very extensive delays to date and the prejudice to the respondent which has been suffered because of that, in my judgment a further extension of six months would be manifestly excessive".

Robinson J goes on to say that there was no reason an Interim Conditions of Practice Order would not be workable in this case.  In light of this, the extension was limited to one of two months, in which time the "the NMC must either finally resolve this matter by virtue of hearing before the Health Committee or make an Interim Conditions of Practice Order".