System 'loaded in favour of staff'

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The Independent Online
UNDER legislation passed last year, the body that regulates and disciplines the nursing profession was required for the first time to include lay members, writes Judy Jones.

But it was the most modest of reforms. Of the 60 members of the United Kingdom Central Council for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting (UKCC), just two are appointed by the Secretary of State for Health to represent the lay person's interests.

Unlike the General Medical Council, the nursing council's professional conduct committee does not have to have lay members sitting on it. So nurses may sit in judgement on other nurses.

Feroza Leeming's application to the UKCC's professional conduct committee last week to be restored to the nursing register was granted by a four-strong panel: a midwifery manager, an assistant director of nurse education, a staff nurse and a practice sister.

David Blunkett, Labour's health spokesman, says it is 'intolerable' that there is no automatic lay input to disciplinary hearings, and believes the current system underpinning the disciplining and regulation of health professionals may be loaded too heavily in favour of staff rather than patients.

The conduct committee considering Mrs Leeming's application took evidence from two employer referees she had named, and from the nursing welfare service, which provides counselling to nurses facing disciplinary charges.

It did not consider the evidence presented to the inquest on Bridget Brosnan, an elderly patient in Mrs Leeming's care, nor its verdict. 'We sympathise with this patient's family,' said Sonja Wolfskehl, a senior case worker for the UKCC. 'But these are quasi-legal proceedings. The committee cannot consider matters that do not lead to a conviction, otherwise it could be creating grounds for a challenge to the High Court for a potential miscarriage of justice.'

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