Julie Fagan, founder member of the Campaign Against Unnecessary Suspensions and Exclusions in the NHS, on the campaign to support Margaret Haywood, the nurse struck off for exposing care failure on national television
As a result of a letter published in Nursing Times on 31 March, I was asked to contribute to a Radio Five Live discussion about the striking off of nurse Margaret Haywood by the NMC.
In readiness for the discussion, I read the reasons given by the NMC’s Fitness to Practise panel for their decisions and was horrified. They demonstrate the panel’s failure to grasp the issues and protect the public. There has also been a grave miscarriage of justice.
I therefore conclude that they are not fit for purpose and an alternative body should be set up to take over their role, for the following reasons:
1. Patients, relatives and staff ‘made complaints and raised concerns about fundamental basic nursing failures… occurring on Peel and Stewart Ward in summer and autumn 2004’. The panel described these failures as ‘of an exceptionally serious nature’ (p3) and ‘dreadful’ (p8). By their very nature they were putting patients’ lives at risk and may even have caused premature deaths.
The head of matrons took no action about these complaints and concerns until 17 December, when he ‘carried out an inspection of the ward’ (p2).
Matrons are supposed to be aware of what is happening on their wards.
Why didn’t the matron for that ward already know there were significant problems?
Why had he or she not taken any action?
Why didn’t the NMC pick up this failure?
Why did they show no concern that it took the head of matrons so long from the initial complaints until December to make any response?
Why did they think ‘an inspection of the ward’ was a satisfactory way to investigate the serious complaints?
2. The head of matrons took until April 2005 to write a report.
Why did the panel express no concern at the length of time taken to write a report regarding exceptionally serious and dreadful failures?
The panel said that the ‘report and recommendations therein contained was in the view of the panel not very impressive’. So why did the panel not consider the report and recommendations as a major failure by the trust to protect patients – the fundamental duty of the NMC and reason for the hearing?
3. It took the showing of the Panorama programme before ‘much more significant recommendations were made’, said the Director of Nursing (p3). So Margaret Haywood’s case had been made. She had also expressed her concerns to the new ward manager before filming without any change occurring.
4. The NMC said she should have used the trust’s whistleblower’s policy and taken it to various levels of management or to the NHS counter fraud unit or the Department of Health directly, if necessary.
Why did the NMC panel think anyone would take action if all the complaints and concerns had thus far failed to bring about any change?
Why couldn’t they see that the trust had had an opportunity to take action, had made a very poor attempt to investigate and had therefore failed completely in its duty of care to patients, as other trusts have been found to fail – the latest being Stafford Hospital, resulting in patient deaths?
5. Margaret Haywood had to answer a second charge of failure to assist a call for help by a fellow nurse.
The panel failed to comment on the punitive behaviour of the head of matrons who ‘was seeking information concerning the behaviour of the registrant on the ward’ (p4) and made an allegation 14 months later. ‘There was no criticism of her [Margaret Haywood’s] behaviour at the time by any of the protagonists in the incident.’ (p4). Why?
CAUSE has found this behaviour to be common. People who are failing in their duty of care try to deflect their poor practice by making false allegations about the whistleblower and, worse still, their trust upholds their actions. In other words, there is a culture of cover up and unjust investigations and disciplinary hearings.
This will not have been the first time the panel has met this, but once again they fail to denounce the practice. Why?
Why do they not see this as a denigration of the registrant’s character and reputation, as well as a waste of everyone’s time? It is also a very distressing experience to be falsely accused, and takes immense amounts of time and energy to write a defence.
6. Margaret Haywood believed the protocol established with the BBC meant that patients would not be included in the programme without their or their relatives’ consent. She avoided filming patients’ faces and I understand that where that had been unavoidable, the faces were blurred during transmission. Presumably to obtain the necessary proof that poor nursing care was happening causing suffering to patients, it would take more than filming one shift to establish.
The panel seemed unable to understand this. They seemed unable to understand that Margaret Haywood genuinely believed she was acting in the best interests of the patients and that filming the evidence was the only way to stop this terrible suffering and possible loss of life. Why?
The panel seemed to find it hard to believe that she could trust the BBC to keep to its word and protect patients’ identity. They did not establish any reason why she should not have done so. Why?
7. The reason for striking the registrant off the register (p7 and 8) makes chilling reading. Margaret Haywood’s belief that she was acting to protect patients is ignored. Her integrity is denied. The public interest is ignored. The fact that Margaret Haywood stood by her claims is seen as a ‘lack of any real insight into her misconduct’ (p8).
Why did the panel fail to look at the bigger picture of public protection from these ‘exceptionally serious and dreadful failures’?
The message the panel has given to nurses is destructive to the cause of changing the culture of blame and looking instead at the failure of systems to protect patients.
I have contacted my local MP, who is a barrister and QC, and I have asked him for his considered opinion of the verdict (available here) and his representation to the Department of Health to overturn this unsafe decision and suspend the Fitness to Practise panel’s activities.
Was the NMC right to strike off Margart Haywood?
Why I'm horrified at the NMC's treatment of Margaret Haywood