The head of the nursing regulator has said “no system” of checks, including the forthcoming revalidation programme, could stop a nurse determined to commit murder.
Nursing and Midwifery Council chief executive and registrar Jackie Smith spoke to Nursing Times this week in the wake of the life sentence given to Victorino Chua for murdering two patients and poisoning 19 others at Stepping Hill Hospital in 2011.
“Let’s not forget the employer is key”
The nursing regulator unexpectedly found itself at the centre of a media storm earlier this week over background checks on overseas nurses after concerns were raised about whether Mr Chua’s Filipino nursing qualifications were genuine.
She defended the regulator’s system for assessing overseas nurse applications, describing it as “pretty robust”.
However, Ms Smith noted that “no system in the world” could prevent people from committing “hideous” crimes such as murder.
She told Nursing Times the regulator had tightened document checking procedures since Mr Chua had joined the register in 2002.
“The fact of the matter is, if he’s not a nurse, no one spotted it”
It now used the same scanning equipment as the UK Border Agency to check certification and required overseas nurses to provide original documentation as opposed to copies, she said, noting that the NMC was “not a fraud agency”.
Ms Smith also said in future it would be easier to identify registrants who are breaching safety standards through the forthcoming system of revalidation, but that it “will not prevent murder”.
In light of recent concerns the NMC had reviewed every successful application to join the register made by Filipino nurses from 2002-06 – more than 11,500 records – finding no cases of forged certification.
Over the last decade, it had identified 10 cases of fraudulent entry on the register from outside Europe, including four with fake documentation. All had been removed from the register.
“We had no complaints about Victorino Chua before the poisonings”
Ms Smith also highlighted the responsibility of employers to ensure staff did not compromise patient safety. She said: “The NMC is not the only organisation that has a role to play in this. Let’s not forget the employer is key.
“Employers need to take responsibility for ensuring that the people they take on have the skills to do the job properly and put their patients first,” she said.
She added: “Everyone is understandably concerned about whether he is nurse or not. The fact of the matter is, if he’s not a nurse, no one spotted it.”
- NMC defends checks process after Stepping Hill case
- Stepping Hill nurse Victorino Chua given life sentence
- Stepping Hill nurse found guilty of murdering two patients
A spokeswoman for Stockport Foundation Trust, which runs Stepping Hill, said it had recruited Mr Chua in line with NHS policy, including checking he was registered to practise with the NMC.
“We had no complaints about Victorino Chua before the poisonings,” she said. “Staff had raised concerns about his interpersonal skills only latterly.”
Ms Smith added that Mr Chua would put through the fitness to practise process as quickly as possible.
“I think nurses recognise that [Monday] was a really bleak day for nursing,” said the NMC chief executive.
“But they also recognise that…there are 680,000 nurses and midwives on the register and the NMC gets about 5,000 complaints a year, which is less than 1%. Most nurses and midwives turn up every day to do an excellent job and put their patients first,” added Ms Smith.
In a statement, Stockport chief executive Ann Barnes said no hospital’s systems and processes could stop the actions of a “determined criminal”.
However, she said the hospital now had additional measures in place that go beyond standard practice.
“These put our organisation at the forefront of best practice in this field and include CCTV in all ward treatment and drug storage rooms, electronic prescribing and an enhanced system for locking treatment rooms and storing insulin,” she said.
On Tuesday, Mr Chua was sentenced to life imprisonment after being found guilty of murdering two patients in his care and poisoning 19 others.
Mr Chua, who pleaded not guilty to 36 charges including three counts of murder, was told by a judge that he would spend a minimum of 35 years in prison for his crimes.