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A controversial ruling to suspend, rather than strike off, a bullying nursing director will stand, and will not go to the High Court, following a review by the Professional Standards Authority (PSA).
The decision by the super-regulator followed the NMC’s own decision to refer the case upwards, because it considered the suspension order handed out by its own panel, and which sparked uproar, to be insufficient.
Helen Lockett was director of operations and executive nurse at the now defunct Liverpool Community Health Trust (LCH) from March 2011 to May 2014.
“After careful consideration, the PSA has decided not to refer this case to the High Court”
The Nursing and Midwifery Council was heavily criticised after it was announced that Ms Lockett – said to have been responsible for a three-year “reign of terror” at the trust – was only to receive a 12-month suspension.
Ms Lockett resigned from her role in Liverpool and was later handed an interim suspension order by the NMC, after a review revealed management failings likened to those at the former Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust.
The NMC had sought to have Ms Lockett struck off, however, the independent panel that heard her fitness to practise case ruled that a 12-month suspension order was the appropriate sanction.
In February, the NMC asked the super-regulator, PSA, to consider appealing the ruling in the High Court, as it believed the decision to suspend Ms Lockett “was not sufficient”. The NMC itself being unable to reopen its cases.
However, it was revealed today that the authority considered the case at a meeting on 20 April and had “decided not to refer the case to the courts” after “having regard to all the facts in the case and the panel’s findings”.
The PSA said: “It could not be satisfied that the panel’s decision to impose the second most serious sanction available to it and which had the effect of preventing the registrant from practising until she has satisfied the panel that she is fit to practise, was insufficient to protect the public.”
There will be a published record of the case meeting and the full reasons for its decision next week.
Responding to the decision, Clare Strickland, deputy director of professional regulation for the NMC, said: “We referred this case to the PSA in February, as we believed that in light of the independent panel’s findings and NMC guidance, a 12-month suspension order was not sufficient.
“We respect their decision and the sanction remains a 12-month suspension order”
“After careful consideration, the PSA has decided not to refer this case to the High Court,” she said. “We respect their decision and the sanction remains a 12-month suspension order.”
Ms Strickland explained the decision meant Ms Lockett would be unable to practise as a nurse for the duration of the suspension and that it would be reviewed before the end of the 12-month period.
“We look forward to reviewing the full reasons from the PSA and any learning points they highlight, so we can incorporate them into our continuous improvement work,” she added.
Labour MP for West Lancashire, Rosie Cooper, was the person who referred Ms Lockett to the NMC in the first place.
Back in February when the lesser sanction was first announced, Ms Cooper called for the nursing regulator to be abolished.
Today, Ms Cooper has said she is “astounded” at the decision not to refer Ms Lockett’s case to the High Court.
“I am at a loss as to how the regulatory bodies tasked with upholding the true values of the National Health Service continue to fail the patients and nurses who were caused so much misery by Ms Lockett,” she said.
“Despite the Nursing and Midwifery Council themselves suggesting that the PSA should exercise their power to appeal to the High Court, this has not been done.
“It effectively means there is no professional regulation any more, as no one will fear regulation by their professional body – that their decisions can cause harm, that they can bully, mislead and drive their subordinates to the point of contemplating suicide and despite all that the likelihood of being struck off is in reality non-existent.”
Ms Cooper said the decision would “frighten every good, decent hard-working nurse”, adding that it was “simply a disgrace”.