Midwife wins appeal against being struck off

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The Independent Online

A midwife won a High Court appeal against being struck off today after a judge ruled she did not have a fair hearing.

The judge said there were "bad feelings" between Eunice Ogbonna and her team leader at Homerton hospital, Hackney, east London.

The team leader, Betty Pilgrim, was a crucial witness against her relating to allegations of misconduct in 2005.

Ms Pilgrim left the UK to live in the Caribbean, but the misconduct charges were found proved after the Nursing & Midwifery Council's conduct and competence committee allowed a written statement she had made to be read out at Mrs Ogbonna's disciplinary hearing.

Today, Mrs Justice Nicola Davies, sitting at the High Court in London, ruled the finding of misconduct and the consequent striking off order, made last June, could not stand.

The judge said it had become clear "that no efforts were made to secure the attendance of Ms Pilgrim at the hearing, either in person or by way of video link".

The judge added: "The court was informed that video link facilities were not available and were not used at hearings. A surprising statement in 2010."

A reading of the case papers revealed there was "a difficult working relationship" between Ms Pilgrim and Mrs Ogbonna, from Bethnal Green, east London.

The bad feeling between the two women "meant that every effort should have been made" to secure the attendance of Ms Pilgrim so that she could be cross examined.

The judge described Ms Pilgrim as the sole witness of fact with regard to the first charges against Mrs Ogbonna, who had worked as a midwife since 1986 and was facing her first misconduct hearing.

All the charges against her related to two days, April 25-26 2005, when she was working as a registered midwife in a delivery suite at Homerton hospital.

On the first day, she was alleged to have left to watch a training DVD when the delivery suite was still busy, ignoring Ms Pilgrim's direction not to leave.

Ms Pilgrim accused her of saying that she did not care if the ward was busy, she was still going to go.

The following day Ms Ogbonna was accused of failing to provide appropriate care to Patient A who was about to give birth, including failing to respect her wish for her husband to remain with her during labour, and failing to attend the patient during the delivery of her daughter.

Other allegations included failing to record a vaginal examination, inappropriately advising the patient to consider an epidural, failing to communicate with her "in a polite and professional manner" and failing to show respect for her dignity.

Referring to the Patient A charges, the judge said the disciplinary tribunal had been entitled to prefer the evidence of the patient and her husband over Mrs Ogbonna's.

But the findings of misconduct and that Mrs Ogbonna's fitness to practise was impaired were "clearly tainted" by the decision to admit Ms Pilgrim's written evidence with regard to the earlier charges.

The judge said: "No real effort was made by the panel to explore the isolated nature of these incidents and the ill health of the appellant."

It was another example "of a failure to have due regard to the fact that the appellant was unrepresented and disadvantaged by the presentation of her case".