Revealed: NHS Scandal of rogue nurses free to work on hospital wards

Sign up for our free Health Check email to receive exclusive analysis on the week in healthGet our free Health Check emailScores of potentially dangerous nurses and midwives could be working in the NHS and putting patients at risk as their cases sit in a growing backlog of misconduct, The Independent can reveal.Hundreds of filings against staff are being progressed without a full investigation, a Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) whistleblower has alleged, risking false sanctions or rogue nurses being wrongly cleared if the cases collapse.Overall there are more than 1,000 outstanding cases against healthcare staff, including 456 that have not even been allocated a case worker to vet them. In 83 of the more serious allegations, the accused staff have been put under restrictions but could still be working with patients. The NMC whistleblower has claimed the figures expose a hidden backlog of “under-investigated” allegations, with 451 cases against nurses and midwives still needing to be reviewed by lawyers. These could include nurses who are innocent but are awaiting a hearing, with one “stuck in the void” for eight years, the source added. A further 32 cases have been sent back to the team dealing with them as the investigation was not deemed thorough enough. Have you been affected by this? Email [email protected] one particularly serious case uncovered by The Independent, a nurse arrested for attempted murder is still listed on the NMC’s register as able to practice without restrictions. The nurse, who cannot be named for legal reasons, is currently being held in custody so is unable to deal with patients. The whistleblower whose allegations prompted The Independent’s investigations has raised repeated concerns to the Professional Standards Authority (PSA), which regulates the NMC, over the hidden backlog, which was only uncovered through a freedom of information request.Nursing and Midwifery Council chief executive Andrea Sutcliffe, pictured in 2013, apologised to anyone waiting too long for a decision in their case (PA)However the PSA has not used its powers to trigger a review. The whistleblower warned the public is being left at risk of harm, while nurses and midwives could face miscarriages of justice.“The NMC’s desperation to hide these figures has caused it to make dangerous decisions including creating a surge team of colleagues from across the organisation to review these cases with only minimal training,” the whistleblower said.“It is proposing to mass outsource these reviews to a firm of lawyers who have never undertaken this kind of work before.”Last year The Independent uncovered a series of allegations warning rogue nurses were going unchecked due to a “culture of fear” within the NMC. Three independent reviews have since been launched by the regulator.NMC Watch, a pressure group that represents nurses facing action, highlighted that some innocent workers are left with false allegations hanging over their heads for months and even years, with some nurses and midwives left suicidal waiting for their cases to be concluded.“Sometimes [referrals] go into a black hole and are not followed up for two years,” an NMC Watch spokesperson said. “It’s quite scary really and it’s scary from both sides because it means the members of the public who have absolute concerns, about their loved ones or care that they’ve had, they’re not getting investigated properly.”In one case, NMC Watch said it represented a midwife who was first referred eight years ago but was not told until last August. The case went ahead and the complaints were overturned but NMC Watch said this midwife “nearly broke down” due to the stress of the situation and the threat of losing her registration.A whistleblower said concerns have been raised with the Professional Standards Authority (stock image) (PA)The NMC has argued the cases were “not stuck”, explaining that some delays were due to investigators looking into new information or witnesses as they emerged. But, according to recent NMC board papers, the organisation was so concerned about the overall backlog that it was forced to ask another team not trained to do investigations, to screen cases. The NMC in a statement has moved fewer than 20 staff members to help with its fitness to practice backlog.Andrea Sutcliffe, NMC chief executive and registrar, said: “I apologise to anyone who has been waiting too long for a decision in their case. It’s our number one priority to make quicker decisions that protect the public and minimise distress for professionals who are referred to us.“We’ve been transparent about the timeliness of our decision-making and our caseload at every stage of the process. Over the past three years we’ve implemented various initiatives to speed up our casework, and while those have made some difference, we’re sorry we haven’t made all the progress we expected to.“In March, we’ll present a new fitness to practise improvement plan to our council,” she continued. “This will include significant further investment in the capacity and capabilities we need to make a step change over the months ahead. We’re all determined to resolve cases as safely and swiftly as possible for the benefit of the public and all the professionals on our register.”On the arrested nurse, an NMC spokesperson added: “The individual is remanded in police custody and cannot practise as a nurse. We carried out a legal review within a day of this new concern being received, and in liaison with the police, we are taking the appropriate regulatory actions at the appropriate times.”The PSA said it was grateful to the whistleblower for raising concerns and that it took courage to do so.It said it was aware of the backlogs within the NMC’s fitness-to-practise processes and that its annual reports show it has not met requirements to deal with cases “as quickly as is consistent with a fair resolution of the case” in the last four years. In November 2022, it said it escalated concerns to the secretary of state for health and care and the health and social care committee. A spokesperson said: “We met with the whistleblower in October 2023 and discussed how we will take forward the information shared with us. Since then we have been copied into further communications about the concerns raised.“We agree that their concerns are serious and have the potential to impact public protection,” they continued. “The whistleblower’s concerns form an important part of the evidence base for our current review of the NMC, which runs from July 2023 to June 2024.“We are aware that the NMC has commissioned independent external investigations into the matters raised by the whistleblower. The Charity Commission has also initiated an investigation. The outcomes of these investigations and how the NMC responds to them will be important evidence for us, informing any additional work we may undertake.”

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