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Nurse suspended over Facebook posts

A children’s hospice nurse has been suspended from working in the nursing profession for six months after posting a series of offensive messages on Facebook.

Allison Marie Hopton’s fitness to practise was called into question by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) following four foul-mouthed outbursts on the social networking site.

The registered nurse thought messages - such as “big bollocking sh****** bastard work tomorrow” and saying a student would have to become her “bitch” - would only be seen by her 380 friends.

But her profile was accessible to other site users and it was not long before she was hauled before bosses, who also discovered she had posted a picture of a colleague sitting on a bed pan.

An NMC panel said Hopton’s online postings were likely to reflect badly on the nursing profession.

A statement read: “Mrs Hopton’s profile page stated that she was a ‘Nurse at Ty Hafan’. On her wall there were numerous comments and conversations posted by Mrs Hopton and her friends. All these comments were accessible to the public.

“Mrs Hopton used a number of profanities on her Facebook page and made direct and indirect references to the hospice.

“The panel was mindful of the vulnerable nature of those in her care and the sensitivity that would need to be applied to the families of patients at the hospice and the wider public.

“The guidance clearly states, ‘presume that everything you post online will be public and will be shared’.

“Her comments on Facebook had been wholly inappropriate and had undoubtedly called into question her judgment and integrity.

“The public rightly expect nurses to act in such a way as to uphold public confidence in the profession.

“As a registered nurse, Mrs Hopton had a duty to uphold public confidence in the profession. Her numerous remarks had undoubtedly brought the reputation of the profession into disrepute and undermined public confidence in the profession.”

The NMC hearing was told that Mrs Hopton had been working at Ty Hafan, just outside Cardiff, from 2007.

Founded in 1999, Ty Hafan provides respite and end of life care to seriously ill children in Wales.

The panel heard the posts on the Facebook profile of Ms Hopton, who was dismissed from her job in 2011, were shown to bosses by one of her former colleagues.

As well as appearing to show reluctance about going into work and disparaging comments about a student nurse, other posts included: “oi f***nuts” and “been shagged over in work”.

Last month, an NMC tribunal ruled that Mrs Hopton’s fitness to practise had been impaired, but could not decide what punishment to hand out.

After more than five hours of discussion at its Cathedral Road offices in the Welsh capital, the panel said a half-year suspension order was justified given her actions, and that she also knew about NMC guidelines on using social networking sites.

“The panel reminded itself of Mrs Hopton’s comments at the investigatory interview which was conducted by her employer,” it said.

“She stated, ‘Facebook is where people vent. Nurses are human. I don’t mix work with my private life. I feel I have been professional’.

“The panel noted that Mrs Hopton had initially failed to appreciate the gravity of her actions. However, she had developed some insight into her conduct in the period since the disciplinary proceedings.”

But it did note that Mrs Hopton had shown “genuine remorse”.

In a letter to the panel, she said: “I cannot go back in time, although I wish I could. I have however reflected on the whole incident and changed my behaviour because of it. I accept that comments were irresponsible and stupid, a complete lapse of judgment.”

The panel, headed by chairwoman Susan Hurds, said it was not necessary to strike Mrs Hopton’s name off the nursing register.

“Having balanced Mrs Hopton’s interests against the interests of the public, the panel determined that a suspension order was the appropriate and proportionate order to maintain public confidence in the profession and in the NMC as a regulator,” it added.

“The panel decided that a suspension order for a period of six months would be appropriate in the circumstances of Mrs Hopton’s case to mark the seriousness with which it regarded her behaviour.”

 

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Readers' comments (16)

  • when when people learn about not puting comments on face book?I know of several people who are sailing close to the wind with this kind of thing even though my trust recently gave out written info about behaviours expected and re-issued nmc guidance

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  • Her comments are a great deal less offensive than the behaviour of managers who allow debacles like that in Staffordshire to occur. When will the NMC start to castigate managers - or am I being naive?

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  • Anonymous | 4-Sep-2013 1:30 pm

    But it is not about whether she is better or worse that managers. It has to be about her individual behaviour as a professional nurse and that is what is being judged.

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  • Anonymous | 4-Sep-2013 4:08 pm

    Yes. But let's have a level playing field nonetheless.

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  • People are stupid: why anyone bothers to put anything on Facebook is beyond me. I think the suspension was a bit OTT, but I bet it will act as a deterrent to her and her mates.

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  • I do think that before managers take disciplinary action over FB posts there needs in each case to be a balancing exercise between respecting staff's rights to freedom of expression and private life on the one hand and upholding professional standards on the other. That said, some people's lack of common sense is truly breathtaking - and this case certainly seems to fall within this category and the NMC's response does seem reasonably fair and proportionate. In the past such stupidity might be expressed to a relatively small audience but FB means it can now be broadcast to the wider universe. Just remember: you have the right to remain stupid but anything you say may be taken and used in evidence against you...

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  • tinkerbell

    Anonymous | 4-Sep-2013 11:47 pm
    'you have the right to remain stupid'

    Read this out to my colleagues at work and we all laughed.

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  • Personal stupidity not affecting practice is a punishable offence. Meanwhile gross managerial incompetence (Mid Staffs anyone) affecting the lives of vulnerable people is not.

    I rest my case.

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  • This individual sounds a very caring nurse I would really want them to care for my child......I think not! Where is the compassion and dignity for patients and colleagues. I am sure the hospice have said good riddance.

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  • I completely agree with personal privacy, within moral and legal precedents.
    However, surely every nurse knows that FB is public space. FB hold your profile on record indefinitely. It makes sense, not to extend your professional digression in to the public domain.
    If one lacks that primary insight, then perhaps nursing or anything involving personal confidence should not be your calling. As for the poor nursing managers, well they are just not on the ball anymore? Got to let them off on plausible deniability.
    Damian.

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  • Michele Wesson

    I don't think much legal knowledge is required where Facebook is concerned - using it as an outlet for depressing comments about anything is bad enough, but it goes without saying that disparaging comments about One's workplace is a straight no-no?! Plus as a nurse you have to recognise responsibilities - even if just her 'friends' had seen this, which is a loose term on social networks, it would still not be acceptable! I sincerely hope that any student this woman has mentored does not reflect any of her attitude to the profession.

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  • Cases like this will only rise in future. It's to easy for people to post comments using their names + traceable links to rant online.

    Maybe there should be a general disclaimer like 'everything posted may be fiction, could be taken out of context, misunderstood, misinterpreted, the author may not hold to any beliefs stated and change their minds at any time.'

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  • tinkerbell

    This nurse has acknowledged that she made a mistake and will most likely never do the same again. As no harm came to anyone in her care (not knowing the full details) I think a 6 month suspension is harsh. She would probably have learned the same lesson without any suspension. Do NMC do 'cautions'. Think she should have been given a second chance without a suspension.

    I have known other nurses who have been let off much more lightly for greater wrong doings that have caused patient harm that never even got as far as NMC. Some of these same nurses even got promoted or moved sideways, some of these nurses were managers.

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  • Has anyone had a look at the NMC facebook page recently. A whole load of private photos have been made public by someone with admin rights. You have to browse with a Smart Phone rather than PC, but the person actually makes a comment on one of the photos to say he has made the album public. Who regulates the NMC?

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  • Care assistants can threaten staff they work with and get way with it. Staff get away with abuse because they are friends on face book. Its about time care assistants were registered

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  • I commenced nursing in 1975. Back then ward sisters or charge nurses always had some grey hair. They spent time being on the ward and watching staff practice occasionally intervening and saying "hey, watch me..like this...OK?.. now you did it! ..thats it! .. carry on". When someone was naughty or did something stupid they were quietly asked into the office where they would be asked if they knew why they had been called. The WS would then explain why doing "A" was better than doing "B" or to be very careful about "X" because "Y" was guaranteed to follow. Most was common sense that comes with age. It would always end in a smile with the youngster thanking the WS for their help and advice. Now, the young career-minded graduate charge nurse immediately completes an incident sheet and notifies HR who advise immediate suspension and a full investigation resulting in a distant disciplinary hearing whilst the CN decides where they put their updated disciplinary policy and which staff to interview first.

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