Nurse restored to register after alcohol misuse says ‘it should be easier to get help’

Kenneth Brady was struck off by Nursing and Midwifery Council for six years 

Kenneth Brady was struck off by Nursing and Midwifery Council for six years 

Mental health nurse Kenneth Brady

Better support is needed for nurses who struggle with substance misuse, a recovering alcoholic has said after being restored to the nursing register.

Kenneth Brady was struck off the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) register in 2012 after a fitness to practise (FtP) panel concluded he had inaccurately answered a question on a job application form about having an addiction to alcohol.

The panel heard that the mental health nurse, who is based in Sussex, had also spoken inappropriately to patients and instructed a support worker to use 'whatever means necessary' to get a resident out of bed.

The conclusion of an NMC hearing last month noted that Mr Brady’s misconduct had been aggravated by ill health, and the panel granted his application to be restored to the nursing register, subject to completion of a return to practice course.

Tackling stigma

Mr Brady said he wants to raise awareness about the stigma of admitting substance misuse as a health professional, and aims to encourage employers to provide better support.

‘If you are a bricklayer and develop a drink or drug problem, you can get help,’ he said.

‘If you are a nurse, it should be easier to get help – but in fact it is harder.’

Work pressures

Mr Brady said his alcohol misuse worsened as his responsibilities at work increased.

After qualifying as a mental health nurse in 2004, he was fast-tracked into a job as a specialist care home manager and clinical lead nurse after only six months on the register.

‘As my career flew, my drinking increased. I had very little nursing experience but was handed a lot of responsibility,’ he explained.

Although he did not drink at work, Mr Brady said the pressure of his job – running a 17-bed residential unit that provided support to people with enduring mental health difficulties – took its toll on him, and his drinking escalated.

He added that he had encountered many nurses who said alcohol was a factor in their own appearance before an FtP panel.  

Increasing understanding

Mr Brady said he would like the regulator to better understand the effects of substance misuse on healthcare workers.

‘It devastates the lives of good nurses who are compelled towards helping others as a vocation, and especially under the current stresses and conditions in the health service,’ he said.

Following support from a well-known recovery programme, and his continued sobriety, Mr Brady can now return to nursing, having spent the intervening six years working as a bus driver and undertaking charity work.

The NMC panel noted that he had demonstrated ‘substantial insight’ and praised his honesty, courage and remediation efforts. 

In the year between September 2017-18, there were 47 FtP cases with proven charges related to alcohol misuse or dependency, and 19 that were related to drug misuse or dependency.

Talking it over

RCN national officer for employment relations Kim Sunley said: ‘It’s important that employers provide support for nursing staff who may have problems, and that managers are skilled enough to have conversations with staff who may be showing signs of drug or alcohol misuse.’

Ms Sunley added that problems with drugs or alcohol abuse often lead to financial difficulties, and said support was available for nurses in this situation from the RCN Lamplight Service, which receives funding from the RCN Foundation.

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