A nurse whistleblower who unsuccessfully took the Nursing and Midwifery Council to court, after implicating the regulator in the loss of her career, has been left facing a bill of £15,000.
Vasanta Suddock, a former matron and care home manager, had attempted to sue the regulator, claiming her professional reputation was “ruined” by the way it handled a previous fitness to practise case against her.
“I have been through six years of hell all because I whistleblew and challenged people”
As previously revealed by Nursing Times, she was struck off the register in 2015 but successfully fought to clear her name last year and recently went to try and sue the NMC.
She argued that the NMC’s actions amounted to “defamation” and breached her human rights and was seeking £500,000 compensation for loss of earnings and other personal and emotional damage.
While her claim reached the High Court, it was ultimately dismissed due to laws that protect quasi-judicial bodies from being sued, she told Nursing Times.
In a summary judgement, handed down earlier this month, she was told her case was “totally without merit” and there were “no reasonable grounds for bringing the claim”.
“Basically, they can’t get the money because I can’t get a job”
She was also ordered to pay the NMC £15,000 in court costs. Ms Suddock, who has struggled to find a new job, is still waiting to hear whether or not the regulator will make her pay the full sum.
However, she said that if the regulator did make her pay back the money it would “add insult to injury”.
“The order has come through from the High Court, but the NMC haven’t decided whether they want to enforce it or not,” she told Nursing Times.
“I am not going to be able to pay it – £10 a month is what I’m offering,” she said. “Basically, they can’t get the money because I can’t get a job.”
Her latest case was dismissed, she said, because the NMC and similar bodies were legally protected by “absolute privilege”, which enabled potentially libellous statements to be made in hearings such as a misconduct case.
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However, Ms Suddock said she felt this blanket protection was unfair in the case of whistleblowers like her, who had been wrongly accused of misconduct because they had raised concerns.
As reported last month by Nursing Times, the original decision to strike her off was quashed by a High Court judge, who ruled there was evidence to show she was the victim of a “conspiracy” to tarnish her name.
The judge also criticised the NMC’s competence and conduct committee for failing for examine the credibility and motives of witnesses.
Despite her unsuccessful bid to sue the NMC, Ms Suddock said she planned to “keep on fighting” and was now seeking free – pro bono – legal representation to help her challenge wider defamation laws that apply to all professional regulators.
“I was shocked to find out that not only is the NMC protected under absolute privilege but witnesses can lie and be malicious, and they are protected too. That’s not right. It is incompatible with basic human rights, so I want to change the law,” she said.
“I have to keep on fighting,” she said. “My livelihood and reputation have been ruined and I am still unable to obtain alternative employment because of what was published about my case.
“But this is not just about me, but all other whistleblowers, and that is why I am appealing for a pro bono lawyer to help me carry on,” she told Nursing Times.
“This is not just about me, but all other whistleblowers”
Ms Suddock said she has been contacted by several other nurses who felt they had been referred to the NMC because they had raised concerns but had not been recognised as whistleblowers.
“There is a pattern where employers make a referral after someone has raised a concern but never before,” she said.
“I have seen the damage to other whistleblowing nurses, midwives, doctors and other professionals who have come up before various regulators,” she said.
“At these types or hearing, witnesses can say what they like and they will strike off or sanction or impair innocent nurses who have whistleblown,” she said. “You can appeal but some nurses aren’t strong enough to go through that.”
Ms Suddock told Nursing Times she had applied for more than 600 nursing jobs but that employers “will not touch” me, despite the fact she had cleared her name and her registration was up to date, having recently gone through revalidation.
She said she feared cases like hers could deter other from raising valid concerns about poor care standards, but maintained she would do the same again if necessary.
“I have been through six years of hell all because I whistleblew and challenged people, and people didn’t like me for challenging them,” she said.
“If I am put in a similar situation again I will feel very fearful of challenging people. However, if I see abuse or neglect – I’m not going say ‘Oh God I’ve been done by the NMC, they’re going to report me’. That fear will always be there but I am not going to change,” she said.
Ms Suddock said she had emailed the NMC and was waiting to hear back whether or not they expected her to pay £15,000.
Asked about the situation, the regulator said it was not prepared to disclose its decision on the matter to Nursing Times.
“In this case, the judge said there were no reasonable grounds for bringing the claim and ordered that our legal costs should be paid,” said a spokeswoman. “Discussions about legal costs are between us and the individual concerned.”