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Manchester based Veterinary Nurse reprimanded and warned as to future conduct for being drunk in an aircraft

7 October 2022

The RCVS Veterinary Nurse Disciplinary Committee has issued a Manchester-based veterinary nurse a reprimand and formal warning as to her future conduct after she was convicted of being drunk in an aircraft.

The hearing for Katherine Heyes RVN, who had previously been convicted of entering an aircraft when drunk / being drunk in an aircraft after pleading guilty at Greater Manchester Magistrates’ Court in July 2020, took place from Wednesday 27 to Thursday 28 September 2022 to consider the charge against her. Ms Heyes was not legally represented but was assisted by a family friend. At the start of the hearing, Ms Heyes admitted the facts of her 2020 conviction, for which she had been sentenced to a community order consisting of unpaid work for 80 hours and ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £80 and £250 in costs, but denied that the conviction rendered her unfit to practise as a veterinary nurse.

The Committee found that the facts of the case were proved, on admission by Ms Heyes and on the basis that the certificate of conviction referred to the criminal offence which Ms Heyes had pleaded guilty to.

In reaching its decision, the Committee took into account the evidence before it and the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Committee went on the consider whether Ms Heyes conduct amounted to serious professional misconduct. In doing so the Committee noted that the Disciplinary Guidance stated “A conviction may be related to professional or personal behaviour and whether it renders a respondent veterinary surgeon unfit to practise is a matter of judgment for the Disciplinary Committee. Behaviour unconnected with the practice of veterinary surgery can cause concerns about the protection of animals or the wider public interest.”

The Committee concluded that the conviction and underlying behaviour was sufficiently serious that it required a finding that Ms Heyes was unfit to practise veterinary nursing on public interest grounds and that it also breached Code 6.5 of the Code of Professional Conduct for Veterinary Nurses which states: ‘Veterinary nurses must not engage in any activity or behaviour that would be likely to bring the profession into disrepute or undermine public confidence in the profession’.

Having found serious professional misconduct proven, the Committee went on to consider the most appropriate sanction for Ms Heyes, taking into account the relevant aggravating and mitigating factors. In terms of the aggravating factors, the Committee considered that the nature of the conviction would have caused a risk to passengers, including children and that Ms Heyes had behaved recklessly, falling far below the standard to be expected of a member of the veterinary nursing profession. 

In mitigation, the Committee considered this was a single and isolated incident, Ms Heyes had no previous disciplinary findings against her and following her conviction she had shown developing insight. It noted that she had continued to practise as a competent and dedicated veterinary nurse.

On deciding to reprimand Ms Heyes in respect of the charge and to warn her as to her future conduct, Cerys Jones, chairing the Committee and speaking on its behalf, said: “The Committee decided to reprimand Ms Heyes because of its finding that the charge amounted to disgraceful conduct and rendered Ms Heyes unfit to practise. Such a sanction was necessary in the Committee’s view because the conviction brought the profession into disrepute. Whilst the charge was not so serious as to require suspension or removal from the register, the Committee decided it is necessary to issue a formal warning to Ms Heyes as to her future conduct.

“Taking into account the overall circumstances of the case including the positive references and the fact that a number of mitigating factors set out in the Disciplinary Committee Sanctions Guidance were present in this case, the Committee was satisfied that this sanction would meet the public interest and protect the reputation of the profession and uphold standards within the profession; thereby maintaining public confidence in the College as the regulator for veterinary nurses.”

This news story is a summary of the hearing to help with understanding the case and the Committee's decision. The full authoritative documentation about the hearing and the Committee’s decision can be found on our disciplinary hearing webpage

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