Protecting the public
These two appeals (detailed below) demonstrate how important it is for the Authority to scrutinise the regulators’ final fitness to practise decisions. Both of the original decisions, we believe, were not sufficient to protect the public from future harm.
See our 2016 round up for more details of our work last year.
Grant – dental nurse registered with the General Dental Council
A dental nurse raised concerns about the poor hygiene practices of one of her colleagues at the dental surgery where they both worked. One of the main issues was around the multiple use of surgical gloves and equipment on different patients – this equipment was either for single use only or had not been disinfected or sterilised between patients. This meant that patients of the practice had to be offered testing for blood-borne diseases, causing them a lot of anxiety while they waited for the results. When the practice was investigated, the registrant was dishonest in her response.
The registrant, the practice manager (also a dental nurse) and the dentist who was the practice principal all faced a General Dental Council hearing. The registrant did not attend the hearing. The majority of the facts were found proved against her. The panel imposed conditions for 12 months which would then be reviewed.
We appealed the case – arguing that:
- the panel had not given adequate weight to the risk posed to patients;
- the panel could not be confident the registrant would comply with conditions because she did not attend the hearing;
- the panel’s consideration of and attitude to the registrant not having attitudinal failings was without basis; and that
- the conditions did not address the registrant’s dishonesty during the investigation which the panel appeared to excuse as loyalty to her employer rather than treating the risk to patients more seriously.
The panel also appeared to treat dental nurses registered when regulation was introduced differently from those who were registered subsequently after gaining professional qualifications. We believed that there was no basis for such a view as good hygiene is a basic requirement in any dental practice. The General Dental Council agreed with our appeal and instead of placing conditions on the registrant’s practice, decided the registrant should be struck off the register of dental nurses. The registrant did not participate in the appeal process.
Hughes – occupational therapist registered with the Health and Care Professions Council
Hughes was convicted following trial in the Crown Court of conspiracy to supply a Class B drug and conspiracy to fraudulently evade a prohibition on the importation of a Class B drug. She was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment which had been served when the case was heard by the Health and Care Professions Council. The HCPC panel imposed a 12-month suspension which would then be reviewed.
We appealed the case arguing that:
- the panel had not given adequate weight to the public interest;
- its approach to factors identified as mitigating were wrong;
- it did not adequately take account of the Crown Court Judge’s sentencing remarks or the sentence imposed; and
- did not give sufficient reasons for its decision.
The HCPC agreed that the panel’s decision was unduly lenient and both the HCPC and the registrant agreed to replace the suspension by striking her off the register of occupational therapists.
Since our last newsletter, we have appealed three cases. This means that there are now a total of eight cases awaiting hearing (seven with the High Court of Justice in England and Wales and one with the Court of Session in Scotland).
There have been no hearings since our last e-newsletter but two appeals have been resolved by reaching agreements with the regulator (the Nursing and Midwifery Council) and the registrants for the cases to be re-heard.
Two more reports published
We have published two more performance review reports since our last newsletter. These reports are one of the ways in which we make sure that the regulators are protecting the public properly. The latest ones to be published were for the General Dental Council and the Nursing and Midwifery Council. We were pleased to note that they have both shown improvement in their performance during 2015/16: with the GDC meeting 21 out of 24 of the Standards of Good Regulation; and the NMC meeting 23 out of 24.
There are four more performance review reports left to publish for 2016/17 but the next round has already started for 2017/18. We are currently looking for feedback on the General Pharmaceutical Council’s performance, so please share your experience of that organisation with us by 7 February 2017.