RCN moves to bar rapist from nursing career

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The Independent Online
The Royal College of Nursing is mounting a legal challenge to reverse a decision which has allowed a convicted rapist to resume his career as a nurse.

The college wants the courts to overturn last month's decision of the United Kingdom Central Council on Nursing, the nurses' disciplinary body, to allow Yuen How Choy, a mental nurse aged 50, to practise again after he raped a former patient in her home in 1983.

He received a two-year sentence, 12 months of which was suspended, and was subsequently struck off by the UKCC. He has a previous conviction from 1972 for drugging a patient in order to have sex with her.

Mr Choy has been working for the past five months as a bank care assistant at Forest Lodge, a private 68-bed nursing home for the elderly and mentally ill in Uckfield, East Sussex. Care assistants, unlike nurses, do not have to be registered in order to work.

The case has left the UKCC promising an urgent review at its June meeting of its procedures for restoring nurses to the register, having last June allowed the appeal of another convicted rapist to practise again. Subaschan Bundhun, 43, had been jailed in 1990 for raping an elderly patient.

A spokesman for the council acknowledged "there are issues we have to address" over the two decisions, and it will consider introducing a prescribed list of offences - rape, murder and child abuse, for example - which would debar a nurse from practising for life.

However, a spokesman said: "Legally, we are told, that might be open to civil challenge." The council might therefore have to say restoration would only occur "in the most exceptional circumstances". The council acknowledged that in this case it had not fulfilled its duty of maintaining public confidence in the registration process. The Royal College of Nursing - which represented Mr Choy in its trade-union role at his 1986 hearing, arguing he should not be struck off - is now wearing its professional hat, maintaining that "it is against the public interest" for him to practise after his two convictions.

Restoring him to the register "goes against common sense", a spokeswoman said. The case, however, has also renewed arguments over the introduction of a General Social Services Council to cover care workers who, unlike doctors and nurses, are not subject to registration and cannot be struck off. The UKCC said: "There is obviously also an issue about the employment of unregulated staff in sensitive care environments. Employers clearly have a responsibility in this respect."

Carol Dilley, director of nursing for Sussex Health Care which runs Forest Lodge, said it had only learnt of Mr Choy's history in February, but he had carried out his work "with care and professionalism". The company told the UKCC at his hearing that it would be willing to employ him as a nurse if he was restored to the register, but said yesterday that "for the immediate future" he would remain in his present role.

A spokesman for the RCN said some nurses have argued that those who rehabilitate themselves should be allowed to practise again. But in this case Mr Choy had clearly "abused his position as a nurse" to carry out the offences, adding: "It involved an abuse of power and abuse of trust."

East Sussex Health Authority, which registers Forest Lodge, said it had urged the company "to consider the wisdom" of employing someone with such a criminal record after it learnt of Mr Choy's employment. But the final decision rested with the nursing home, not the health authority whose only sanction is to seek de-registration of the home, a process subject to legal challenge.

Disciplinary bodies

block the way back

Other professional disciplinary bodies said yesterday it would be most unlikely that they would restore a convicted rapist to practice - although each case would have to be judged on its merits, writes Nicholas Timmins.

The General Medical Council - which struck a doctor off last year for rape - said that records going back to 1970 showed that it had not restored a doctor after a rape conviction for at least 25 years. The only doctor in that time who had sought the right to return to practice after such a conviction had been rejected, the GMC said.

The Bar Council said there was no automatic suspension for rape, although any such case involving a client would inevitably involve a conduct hearing. In general, criminal convictions were regarded as incompatible with practice at the Bar. A spokesman for the Solicitors' Complaints Bureau, which acts as the disciplinary body for solicitors, said it was extremely rare for a solicitor who had been struck off to be restored, whatever the offence.

"It is almost inconceivable anyone would be restored after rape. It would be considered as bringing the profession into disrepute. If you were a client, would you want to go to see a solicitor who had been convicted of rape? The answer is clearly no."