We may all need guardian angels

As a journalist I receive emails from the Nursing and Midwifery Council about its disciplinary hearings. They list the names of nurses, the charges against them, and when and where their hearings will take place.

It is interesting to see what accusations warrant investigation by the nursing regulator. The range of charges varies from what look like minor misdemeanours, such as failing to record that a particular nursing action has taken place, to acts of negligence, theft, cruelty and even serious assaults against vulnerable patients.

Some offences keep cropping up: nurses sleep on duty, tell lies and steal prescription medications (often tranquillisers or opiate pain killers for their own use). They have alcohol problems, they say hurtful things to patients or relatives, and they make unwelcome sexual advances towards colleagues.

One example I read about recently involved a nurse who had allegedly stolen food from a supermarket, left a nursing home without qualified nursing cover, stole controlled drugs for her personal use and lied about being dismissed from a previous job. It strikes me that whatever was going on with that nurse, if the allegations were true, she was probably in a pretty chaotic state.

Being a nurse is a tough job and many of the nurses who appear at these hearings are showing human frailties that may be more readily tolerated in other situations or in other walks of life. But nursing requires professional standards and nurses are judged more harshly than the general population, and that is how it should be.

The NMC’s panels have an unenviable task in this regard, which they seem to carry out fairly and, in the vast majority of cases, with good judgement.

I don’t condone any of the alleged actions of these nurses, but I can’t help feeling sorry them. Of course, some of them turn out to be incompetent, malicious, deviant or dangerous, and sometimes all of those things.

But I suspect that many who come before an NMC panel were acting out of character, at the end of their tether after a series of bad days, and failing to cope in a very difficult job. And that’s a situation any one of us could find ourselves in.

What these nurses needed - maybe what we all need - is a colleague to act as a guardian angel who can spot when things are going wrong and help to put them right before things get out of hand.

NMC hearings are open to nurses and other members of the public, see Attending a hearing

About the author

Colin Parish is editor of Learning Disability Practice and Mental Health Practice

Follow Colin on Twitter: @editorLDPandMHP