he recent outcome of a High Court case illustrated the importance of evidence in Nursing and Midwifery Council hearings and sanctions.
Muckamore Abbey Hospital
Concerns about patient safety at Muckamore Abbey Hospital in Northern Ireland were first raised in September 2017. The NMC received their first referral from the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust in December of the same year. Between December 2017 and January 2019, the NMC dealt with a total of ten referrals from the Trust.
The NMC took a view that there were the very serious public protection concerns and public interest in the case and consequently, it applied for and were granted interim suspension orders on nine of the ten nurses.
“Summary of evidence”
The NMC’s sanctions were based on a summary of evidence which is said to show the serious abuse of patients by nursing staff. The evidence referred to above came from a summary of the CCTV footage – not the full CCTV recordings.
At the time when the sanctions were imposed, the NMC did not have access to the full CCTV footage because of the ongoing police investigation.
On Friday 8 February 2019, the High Court in Belfast lifted the interim suspension of the nine nurses on the basis there was not enough evidence to keep them in place.
Understanding evidence is key
Decisions made by the NMC are weighty and can have significant implications for nurses, midwives and nursing associates. It is therefore important that decisions made by it is well considered and based on a proper assessment of the evidence before it.
Each case before the NMC will be determined on its individual merits. On appeal (should this be necessary) the appellant court will need to determine whether the NMC has considered the evidence properly and come to the right conclusions based on it.
This was demonstrated in the Muckamore Abbey Hospital case where the High Court decided that the NMC’s actions were disproportionate as it was based on an inadequate level of evidence (i.e. a summary of evidence) instead of the full picture (i.e. full CCTV footage).
A thorough understanding of the NMC’s fitness to practise process and rules relating to the disclosure, relevance and scrutiny of evidence is vital for any nurse, midwife and/or nursing associate to ensure the best possible outcome in their case. There is no doubt that expert legal advice and representation is key to achieving good outcomes for nurses, midwives and nursing associates facing NMC fitness to practise hearings and sanctions.
I am a NMC Defence Barrister who has represented large number of medical professionals before their regulatory bodies in either first instance proceedings or appeals.
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