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Practice nurse dismissed after covering up unnecessary smear test

Practice nurse dismissed after covering up unnecessary smear test
Practice nurse dismissed for performing unnecessary smear tests and burning patient records at home

An employment tribunal concluded a practice nurse engaged in ‘serious’ misconduct by altering a patient’s records to cover up an unnecessary smear test, leading to her dismissal.

Julie Higham worked as a practice nurse for NM Health Innovation Ltd – which runs several general practices in Lancashire including her practice Lostock Hall Village Surgery – until her dismissal following a disciplinary hearing in May last year.

An employment tribunal found last month that Ms Higham had falsified patient records to say no smear test had taken place, after discovering she was not meant to have performed it.

Judge Cowx agreed with NM Health Innovations Ltd that Ms Higham had committed ‘serious’ misconduct – where ‘dismissal was within the band of reasonable responses’ – after finding she had altered patient records to cover up a mistake.

However, the judge ruled that Ms Higham was unfairly dismissed, but only on ‘procedural’ grounds after finding the decision to dismiss her was ‘substantively fair’.

The judgement noted that Tracy Muttucumaru – the ANP and nurse manager who led the disciplinary hearing – appointed her twin sister Jacqui Chester, also an ANP, to lead an internal appeal into the dismissal even though she could not be considered ‘impartial’.

Judge Cowx said that ‘there was a real possibility that Mrs Chester would be biased in favour of her twin sister’s findings’, but concluded the ‘outcome would have been the same’ if someone else would have been appointed to the appeal hearing.

The judge said: ‘I am sure that a GP, or any other person independent of the preceding stages of the disciplinary proceedings, would have reached the same decision as Mrs Chester: that falsifying [the patient’s] record of the smear test was gross misconduct, and that dismissal was the appropriate outcome.

‘The decision to dismiss the claimant by reason of conduct was substantively fair, but technically unfair on a point of procedure in that the appeal should have been heard by someone other than Mrs Chester. Notwithstanding the procedural unfairness, the claimant would still have been dismissed for the substantive conduct reason.’

However, the judge dismissed the four other allegations from NM Health Innovations Ltd as either unproven or not serious enough to justify dismissal.

The judge also ruled that Ms Higham was entitled to one day’s pay of £150.08 on the basis she was a part-time employee and would only have worked on one day when her dismissal came into effect.

Lostock Hall Village Surgery said no one is prepared to comment after being approached by Nursing in Practice.

This comes after the a prison nurse was struck off by an NMC fitness to practise tribunal after it was found that she had allowed an inmate to ‘kiss and touch her’ and had sent sexually explicit letters to another.


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