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Ex NMC chief acted 'unfairly' in disagreement over case referral

The former head of the Nursing and Midwifery Council acted “unfairly” when he replaced two legal advisors who disagreed with him over a fitness to practise referral, a judge has ruled.

Barristers William Hoskins and Paul Kilcoyne launched a high court challenge against the NMC and its former chief executive Dickon Weir-Hughes after they were removed as members of the regulator’s investigations committee.

The committee, which decides whether an allegation should proceed to full fitness to practise proceedings, disagreed with Professor Weir-Hughes over allegations relating to a group of nurses from Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust.

Professor Weir-Hughes, who resigned from the NMC earlier this year due to ill health, had taken the unusual step of referring the group to the investigations committee himself. His move came after an inquest jury found the care provided by the eight nurses had not met the standards set out in the NMC code of conduct.

The jury found they had failed to read clinical notes properly and identify a patient as diabetic. They then failed to give insulin, provide a suitable diet and record blood glucose levels. The patient fell into a diabetic coma and later died. But the investigations committee decided there was no case to answer.

Court papers seen by Nursing Times reveal the committee concluded the nurses had shown “insight and learning” into their actions and as a result there was “no real prospect” of them being found unfit to practise.

The court papers state that Professor Weir Hughes “concluded that he lacked sufficient confidence” in the two barristers.

Mr Justice Edwards-Stuart declined the request for a judicial review but ruled it was a “matter of public concern” that Professor Weir-Hughes was willing to “sack summarily” advisers who do “not share his views”.

He added: “It is at least arguable that he has acted unfairly and in a manner that may have been detrimental to the public interest.”

The barristers have appealed the judge’s decision against a judicial review. The appeal is due to be heard next week.