Professional body accused of violating human rights

Posted: 25th July 2012

A mental health nurse who was suspended by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) after it was claimed that he became over-familiar with a vulnerable patient has accused the professional body of breaching his human rights.

The nurse is facing allegations that he became too close and ‘exchanged familiar text messages’ with a female patient in his care. No misconduct charges have been proved against him; however he was suspended by the NMC on an interim basis in November last year, pending an investigation of the claims.

At the High Court in London, his lawyers are now arguing that the 18-month suspension was imposed without adequate consideration of his own account of events.

It is claimed, therefore, that the suspension breached his right under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights to a fair and public hearing before an impartial tribunal.

The claimant had an unblemished disciplinary record when a complaint was made against him by a young mother in his care.

The claimant’s barrister, Ian Wise QC, said: "He provided her with a considerable amount of practical and emotional support. This extended to him providing comfort to the woman and exchanging familiar text messages."

The claimant argued that he was only trying to maintain the woman's involvement with health workers. However, he accepted during a preliminary NMC hearing that he had “breached the boundaries” and said that he regretted his actions.

As is common practice, the NMC suspended the claimant on an interim basis for 18 months whilst it investigates the allegations against him and arranges, if necessary, a full disciplinary hearing.

However, in a case which could lead to a radical change in disciplinary procedures followed by professional bodies, Mr Wise argued that the claimant’s interim suspension amounted to a punishment without due process in breach of Article 6.

Mr Wise told the Court: "The procedure adopted during the hearing that led to the impugned decision was unfair because it failed to ensure that the appellant had a proper opportunity to deal with the allegations made against him."

He added: "If the claimant is correct in his submissions, the NMC's interim orders regime will have to significantly change. The Royal College of Nursing is very concerned about the unfairness of the way in which such interim orders are made."

Mrs Justice Thirlwall, who will decide whether to overturn the suspension and send the matter back to the NMC for reconsideration, reserved her judgment in the case.