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RVN suspended for three months for supplying controlled drugs to a friend

11 August 2023

A Northumberland-based veterinary nurse has been suspended for three months after the Veterinary Nurse Disciplinary Committee of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) found that she had supplied controlled drugs to a friend.

The hearing for Melanie Jane Herdman RVN took place from Monday 31 July to Thursday 3 August and involved three charges against her.

The first charge related to an intention to supply diazepam and/or tramadol for use by a friend. The second charge related to supplying diazepam and/or tramadol and/or gabapentin. The third charge related to providing advice on the dosages of diazepam and/or tramadol and/or gabapentin.

Miss Herdman was not present at the hearing and was unrepresented, but the Committee determined that it was appropriate to proceed in her absence as she had been formally notified, was aware that the hearing was taking place and her absence was voluntary.

However, Miss Herdman had been in contact to indicate her pleas to the charges, and she admitted the intention to supply diazepam and/or tramadol and that she had provided advice on the dosages. She also admitted that she had supplied diazepam but strongly denied that she had supplied tramadol and/or gabapentin. Taking all the evidence into account (including messages sent by Miss Herdman and her admissions), the Committee found proven the charges in relation to the intent to supply and the advice on dosages. The Committee also found proven the charge in relation to the supply of diazepam, but found not proved the charge relating to the supply of tramadol and gabapentin for several reasons, including the fact that the messages sent by Miss Herdman did not point unequivocally to her actually supplying each of the drugs to which she referred. It should be noted that there was no suggestion that the diazepam was stolen from her place of work.

Turning to the question of serious professional misconduct, the Committee found that Miss Herdman’s actions had breached paragraphs 1.5 and 6.5 of the Code of Professional Conduct for Veterinary Nurses. In the Committee’s judgment there were also a number of aggravating features of Miss Herdman’s conduct, including that she was not qualified or authorised to prescribe medication to animals, let alone to human beings and that, in providing a controlled drug to a person who was already taking various painkilling medications, she had acted recklessly. In finding that Miss Herdman’s actions amounted to serious professional misconduct, the Committee noted that, in addition to the obvious risk to the health of her friend, a reasonable and fully informed member of the public would be very concerned to learn that a veterinary nurse had supplied a controlled drug to a friend for their personal use.

Regarding the sanction for Miss Herdman, Paul Morris, chairing the Veterinary Nursing Disciplinary Committee and speaking on its behalf, said: “Drawing all the material together, and considering the matter as a whole, the Committee had to impose a proportionate sanction for an isolated incident of serious professional misconduct which arose out of a misguided attempt to help a friend. The conduct in question was entirely out of keeping with Miss Herdman’s usual practice and there is no real risk that it will be repeated. However, this case was much too serious to take no further action and no useful purpose would be served by postponing a sanction.

“The Committee considered that a warning or reprimand would not be sufficient to satisfy the public interest as veterinary nurses are trusted by the public to deal with medication responsibly and failure to do constitutes a severe breach of trust.

“The Committee therefore considered a period of suspension sufficient to meet the public interest in maintaining the reputation of the profession and declaring and upholding proper standards of conduct for members of the profession.

“The Committee also considered whether a removal order would be appropriate but concluded it would be disproportionate and that such a step would remove from the profession an experienced, competent and valuable veterinary nurse for no discernible benefit.

“It was decided that Miss Herdman’s registration be suspended for a period of three months – a period which is sufficient to mark the gravity of the misconduct while taking into account the circumstances in which it arose.”

The full findings of the Committee can be found on our dedicated RCVS Disciplinary Committee hearings webpage.

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