23 Mar 2012

MP to quiz health regulators over practitioners defying bans

The chair of the influential health select committee is to quiz medical regulators over dangerous medical professionals who defy sanctions handed down in order to protect the public.


Stephen Dorrell will approach the heads of the General Medical Council (GMC) and the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) following a Channel 4 News investigation this week which revealed that in the last three years, 17 doctors have ignored restrictions and suspension placed on their practices by continuing to work.

And Channel 4 News has uncovered further evidence that nurses, too, have flouted disciplinary action meted out by the NMC.

They include:

• A nurse suspended for failing to decontaminate an endoscope, which “could have put patients at real risk of significant harm”, but carried on working anyway.

• One who continued to train medical professionals even after being banned from doing so, because he had failed to check the “potentially disastrous” consequences of mixing two drugs in the same drip.

• Another who disobeyed an NMC order to tell her new employers that she was under investigation for leaving a dying ovarian cancer patient in pain.

Commenting on the findings, former health secretary Mr Dorrell (pictured) said: “There is no point in a regulatory board saying that someone is suspended and then that is not honoured.

“You have to assume that if someone transgresses the rules but does not abide by them, it follows that some other enforcement framework is brought in to make sure that ruling is respected.

“These are definitely issues the regulatory boards need to pursue.”

He added: “I will follow this up with the regulators… [and] this is something that would naturally be part of the autumn review process.”

Stephen Dorrell MP - Getty

First doctors, now nurses

In the last two years, at least 11 nurses and midwives were found to have breached conditions and suspensions handed down by the NMC’s “fitness to practise” panels.

The organisation has even admitted that it finds it difficult to monitor whether those it suspends from practising continue to work.

And the investigation found there have been two nurses in the past two years year who have carried on working even though they were suspended; both for allegedly committing serious misconduct.

One of them was Olatunbosun Olaofe, who was suspended in 2010 for allegedly failing to decontaminate an endoscope whilst working in a Hackney hospital.

At his disciplinary hearing, the NMC said he could have put patients at real risk of significant harm, and suspended him.

But Mr Olaofe continued to work at the hospital and did not tell his employers about the action taken against him.

Remarkably, when the NMC learned of the dishonesty at his follow-up hearing, it downgraded his suspension order and let him continue working with a set of conditions on his practice.

A letter from the NMC and the Information Commissioner’s Office in response to a Channel 4 News freedom of information request said that although it “often proactively chase(s) the nurse or midwife in the interim if they have conditions,” it admitted that keeping tabs on nurses it has suspended is problematic.

“Suspensions and striking off orders are more difficult to monitor, as the NMC does not hold employer details of its nurses and midwives on its register, nor are we made aware when someone applies for a new role. We do always ask the nurse or midwife for employer details in the fitness to practise proceedings, but they do not always engage to provide them,” the correspondence read.

Drip mix-up

In another case of a nurse defying sanctions, Denis Sebaleke was suspended by the NMC in May last year for breaching conditions originally imposed on him after he failed to check the “potentially disastrous” consequences of mixing two drugs in the same drip.

In 2007, whilst working at Lewisham Hospital in south east London, Mr Sebaleke mixed antibiotics with fast-acting insulin in a patient’s IV line without checking the combination was safe.

Mr Sebaleke, now 39, then lied on an application form for a staff nurse post at the Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals Trust, in Middlesex, in 2009.

At his fitness to practise panel hearing last year, panel chair Paul Hindley said Sebaleke’s failure to check the compatibility of the drugs, which occurred on December 16, 2007, was “very dangerous”.

He added: “He has admitted dishonesty and this calls into question his integrity and trustworthiness.

“In our judgement there is a risk of repetition and he therefore continues to present a risk to the public.”

The panel placed conditions on his practice, one of which banned him from training or supervising trained or untrained healthcare professionals.

But Sebaleke continued to train medical practitioners and was suspended last year, although that has since been downgraded to restrictions on his practice.

Failure to inform

Other cases of nurses ignoring conditions specifically designed to protect the public include one who failed to inform her employers that she was subject to disciplinary proceedings for injecting a young patient with an incorrect drug dose and plagiarising essays for her nursing studies degree.

A spokesperson from the NMC said: “Sanctions placed on a nurse or midwife’s registration are published on our website and the parties involved, including complainants and current employers, are contacted directly with the panel’s decision. In addition, employers also receive a monthly list of fitness to practise hearing outcomes which they can cross check with their employee records.

“The current legislation does not allow the NMC to hold employer details for each of the 670,000 nurses and midwives on its register. Employers are responsible for regularly checking the registration status of the nurses and midwives they employ through the NMC’s employer confirmation service. Any nurse or midwife whose registration is subject to conditions is required to inform current and future employers. In addition, we regularly review conditions and suspension orders and may amend them if necessary to further protect the public.”

Earlier this week, Channel 4 News discovered that 17 doctors had disregarded conditions and suspensions placed on them by the GMC.

The investigation found that a former locum GP who injected a patient with heroin so that he could use the rest of the vial to feed his addiction had worked in defiance of two separate suspensions.

Another GP, sanctioned by the GMC for failing to diagnose meningitis in a baby who later died, continued to work whilst breaching several conditions and had fresh allegations brought against him during that time.