Veterinary Nurse Disciplinary Committee suspends Surrey-based veterinary nurse for ten months

13 February 2017

The College's Veterinary Nurse Disciplinary Committee has directed the Registrar to suspend a Surrey-based veterinary nurse from the Register for a period of ten months.

The disciplinary case against Lois Hodgkinson RVN took place between Monday 6 February 2017 and Wednesday 8 February 2017. At the time of the alleged offences, Ms Hodgkinson was a full-time registered veterinary nurse at a practice in Woking, Surrey.

The allegations against Ms Hodgkinson were that, between 1 September 2013 and 1 April 2015, she placed five orders for Prescription only Medication (POM) for her own personal use and/or without an authorised prescription using the practice’s veterinary wholesaler ordering system. Specifically:

  1. 28 x 30mg Codeine Phosphate tablets, ordered on or about 9 September 2013;
  2. 56 x 250mg Naproxen (Naprosyn) tablets, ordered on or about 24 February 2014;
  3. 28 x 50mg Amitriptyline tablets, ordered on or about 7 August 2014;
  4. 28 x 25mg Amitriptyline tablets, ordered on or about 10 November 2014; 
  5. 28 x 60mg Codeine Phosphate tablets, ordered on or about 31 March 2015.

The medications for charges (1) to (3) above were intended for her own personal use, as she had previously at various times been prescribed Codeine, Naproxen and Amitriptyline after being involved in a serious car accident in November 2012, as a result of which she suffered from chronic back pain and other problems.

Charges (4) and (5) above, were intended for her dog, ‘Minnie’, but the dosages ordered were incorrect. The medications were never removed from the practice or given to Minnie, but were instead returned to the wholesaler.

From the outset Ms Hodgkinson admitted the charges against her, although she believed that other staff at the practice had placed similar personal orders and that she had been given permission to do so as well. Ms Hodgkinson also accepted that the facts amounted to disgraceful conduct in a professional respect.

The Committee accepted Ms Hodgkinson’s admission of the charges and, accordingly, found the charges proved. The question of whether the facts amounted to serious professional misconduct was, however, a matter for the Committee’s judgement, notwithstanding Ms Hodgkinson’s admission.

In reaching its decision, the Committee took into account Ms Hodgkinson’s assertion that she believed she had been given permission to order medication through the practice. She did admit however that she must have been mistaken in that belief. The Committee also took note of the College’s submission that a number of aggravating features were present which amounted to serious professional misconduct, namely: the potential risk posed to animal welfare; Ms Hodgkinson’s ignorance of fundamental legislative provisions; a breach of trust placed in her by virtue of her RVN status; the fact that the misconduct was repeated over a period of time; and a lack of awareness of professional responsibilities at the time of the conduct. The Committee therefore had no hesitation that the conduct did amount to serious professional misconduct.

The Committee then turned to the question of sanction. A number of mitigating factors were put forward in Ms Hodgkinson’s defence including the fact that a period of lengthy suspension or removal from the register would result in her losing an offer of employment, the fact that up to the relevant conduct she had had an unblemished career and the fact that she had made early admissions of guilt and shown insight into her misconduct.

The Committee decided that a period of 10 months’ suspension would be appropriate and proportionate in this case.

Chitra Karve, who chaired the Committee and spoke on its behalf, said: “The length of the period of suspension…is intended to reflect this Committee’s view, assisted as it has been by the experience and knowledge of a practising RVN and a veterinary surgeon, of the seriousness of the respondent’s conduct in its totality and of the need for the message to go out to all veterinary professionals that the ordering of POMs without the authority of a valid prescription is a most serious instance of misconduct. In such circumstances the personal mitigations that a practitioner might place before a Disciplinary Committee, whilst not immaterial, is inevitably of limited persuasion. And that is what this Committee has concluded in this particular case, having reflected carefully on the mitigation factors placed before it.

“Having weighed the matters of personal mitigation against the fact that a rudimentary knowledge of the governing legislation was effectively all that was required of the Respondent to ensure that the misconduct complained of did not occur, it is the clear view of the Committee that it would be failing in its public duty were it to do anything less than to impose a period of suspension from practice and the least period of suspension that is appropriate in this case is one of ten months. The Committee therefore instructs the Registrar to act accordingly.”