Nurses’ Human Rights Violated by Longest Ever Disciplinary Process

December 17, 2013

Nurses’ Human Rights Violated by Longest Ever Disciplinary Process

Two nurses who were found guilty of misconduct by their professional body following the longest recorded set of disciplinary proceedings have been exonerated after the High Court found that their human right to a fair hearing within a reasonable time had been violated and that the delays that blighted their cases had been ‘disgraceful’ (R on the application of Johnson v Nursing and Midwifery Council).

Misconduct was found proved against the two women by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) in 2011 following a hearing which had lasted a total of 86 days, spread over a period of two years and nine months. The Court observed that the proceedings could serve as a case study of how not to conduct a disciplinary case.

The allegations related to the nurses’ conduct whilst working at a home for the elderly. The NMC found that both women had failed to ensure that care plans were in place for four residents with a history of falls and that one of them had failed to ensure that a safe system of administration of medicine was in place with regard to five patients.

The allegations related to events between 1996 and 2002 and the nurses first learned of them in 2003. Following a lengthy investigation, the hearing of their disciplinary case was not scheduled until 2009. Further delays ensued and the hearing was not concluded until December 2011.

In the end, taking into account those delays, the detrimental impact that they had had on both women, their ‘previously unblemished’ careers and their positive testimonials, the NMC decided not to impose any sanctions on them. The body also issued a public apology for the length of time taken to deal with the matters.

Lamenting the enormous waste of resources involved and the long-term damage done to both women’s professional careers, the Court noted that, at the end of an eight-year case, no action had been taken in relation to either of the nurses and so ‘the mountains had laboured and brought forth a mouse’.

The NMC accepted that the delays that had plagued the women’s cases amounted to a breach of their right to a reasonably prompt and fair hearing, which is enshrined in Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. However, it sought to uphold the findings of misconduct made against them.

The Court quashed those findings, however, ruling that they were ‘unreasonable, unfair and, in consequence, unlawful’ and not reasonably supported by the evidence.

Ten years after what the Court referred to as a ‘misconceived and mismanaged case’ brought against them, the nurses’ names have now been cleared.