A bank nurse who was referred to the Nursing and Midwifery Council for misconduct and later cleared says her life and 30-year career have been left in tatters.
Linda Ellingham has not worked since being suspended three years ago and contacted Nursing Times because she said she wanted to highlight the “traumatic” consequences for nurses found not guilty in NMC cases.
“There are so many cases in the paper and on the web concerning nurses who have been found guilty by the NMC. However, there are very few about those where no misconduct has been found,” she said.
“It is now over three years since the allegations were made, my reputation has been destroyed, I have become de-skilled”
Speaking on her own experience of being referred to the NMC, she said: “I was devastated and totally unprepared. I could not believe they were saying I was a danger to the public.”
Ms Ellingham had worked as a bank nurse for Mid Yorkshire Hospitals Trust for more than 15 years when she was accused of turning up to work drunk. She was referred to the NMC by her employer – NHS Professionals – for that and a previous medication error, which she had reported immediately.
She then faced a near two-year wait before her case came before the NMC. Not long after her suspension she was removed from NHS Professionals’ register for another matter – cancelling numerous shifts at short notice – something she denies.
At an NMC hearing in January, she was cleared of misconduct relating to the drug error and the NMC panel found no proof she had come to work intoxicated, concluding she was fit to continue working as nurse.
But Ms Ellingham, who has since been diagnosed with depression and is now claiming benefits, said she had now given up hope of returning to the profession. “I had spent so long suspended and put all my energy into the hearing that when it was over I was totally lost,” she said.
“It is now over three years since the allegations were made, my reputation has been destroyed, I have become de-skilled,” she said. “I have nursed since 1979, it was my life and defined me as a person. The shame that is associated with being suspended is enormous.”
Ms Ellingham, who believes she was “disposed of” for speaking up about staffing issues, initially attempted to sue the trust for malicious prosecution, breach of contract and other charges but dropped the case for fear of the huge legal costs if she was unsuccessful.
Her case has subsequently been investigated by Ed Balls, her local MP and Labour’s shadow chancellor, who recently invited her to meet him in person to discuss her concerns.
However, Mid Yorkshire Hospitals Trust strongly denied Ms Ellingham was referred to the NMC for reporting staffing issues and said it actively encouraged staff to speak out about concerns.
“While the trust does not comment on individual cases, we should make it clear that any suggestion Linda Ellingham was referred to the NMC because she was outspoken about staffing issues is simply incorrect,” said a spokesman.
“We should also make it clear she was working for the trust through an agency and had her registration with that agency discontinued for reasons completely unrelated to the NMC referral some months earlier,” he added.
NHS Professionals said it could not comment individual cases but it said it was obliged to investigate complaints about flexible workers and refer any concerns to the NMC.
“NHS Professionals has a robust governance process that ensures each case is reviewed thoroughly using the evidence provided by the trust before making a referral to the NMC,” said a spokeswoman.
Flexible workers who have their registration with NHS Professionals terminated for any reason have the right to appeal that decision.
“This would result in an objective review of the case and an opportunity for the worker to present their case of appeal. NHS Professionals can confirm it fully adhered to this process,” added the spokeswoman.
The NMC said it advised nurses going through fitness to practise cases of the support available and had recently introduced a witness liaison team to help anyone taking part.
A spokeswoman said the regulator also worked to encourage the media to follow through cases and report the outcome where nurses were found not guilty.