Nurses struck off for misconduct in record numbers

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A record number of nurses was struck off the professional register last year as complaints of misconduct contin- ued to rise, the disciplinary authority said yesterday.

A record number of nurses was struck off the professional register last year as complaints of misconduct contin- ued to rise, the disciplinary authority said yesterday.

Verbal and physical abuse of patients was the most common reason for removal from the register, the UK Central Council for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting said. Nurses in care homes for the elderly, mentally ill and learning-disabled were most likely to be guilty of misconduct, accounting for more than half the 104 struck off.

Complaints to the council have risen by a third in the past five years to 1,240, and 221 cases were referred for a full public hearing, up from 164 in 1999-2000. A spokesman for the council said the rise in complaints reflected the growth in consumer confidence rather than a decline in the NHS. "It is part of a wider social trend. People are more prepared to complain if they are not getting what they feel they are entitled to. And probably quite rightly."

More than half those struck off last year were men (64 out of 104) but they comprise fewer than one in 10 of those on the register. The council dismissed the view that men were more likely to commit physical abuse and suggested their numbers within the profession were too small "to allow any sensible conclusions to be drawn".

The spokesman said: "Serious physical abuse of patients is committed by women as well as men. There are excellent male practitioners and excellent female practitioners; there is a tiny minority ... who commit professional misconduct."

In one case in the report, a night nurse in a home for the elderly mentally ill shouted at patients who got out of bed, used a mobile table that extended over the bed to restrain patients, preventing them getting up, and gave one woman an unprescribed enema.

She was found guilty of misconduct but allowed to continue working with a caution after the professional conduct committee decided she had "learnt from the events".

In another case, a nurse studying to be a midwife was struck off after she gave patients misleading information, spoke to them in an inappropriate way and behaved as though she knew more than she did. She wrongly told one patient Caesareans had a 49 per cent mortality rate, asked another woman to move while an epidural was being inserted in her spine and frequently prefaced her remarks to patients saying: "It is my legal duty to inform you ..." The professional conduct committee said she was unsafe to practise.

In another case, Kevin Cobb, 39, was struck off after being jailed for life last year for killing a female colleague and drugging and raping patients. He had been working in the accident and emergency department of St Peter's Hospital, Chertsey.

The number of nurses alleged to be unfit to practise on health grounds also rose to a record of 164, double the number six years ago. The most common reasons given were mental illness, alcohol dependence and drug addiction. 55 nurses were suspended on health grounds and, for a further 43, judgment was postponed or adjourned.

Alison Norman, president of the council, said it had worked to ensure cases were considered "swiftly, efficiently and robustly".

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