VN DC removes nurse from Register following animal poisoning conviction

24 May 2019

The RCVS Veterinary Nurse (VN) Disciplinary Committee has directed that a Dunbartonshire-based veterinary nurse’s name be removed from the Register of Veterinary Nurses following her conviction in 2017 for causing unnecessary pain and suffering to an animal.

In August 2017, Georgina Bretman was convicted following her trial before  Glasgow Sheriff Court of a criminal offence contrary to the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) 2006 Act in relation to causing unnecessary pain and suffering to her two-year-old dog, named Florence.

The Sheriff Court found Miss Bretman guilty of causing unnecessary suffering to Florence by injecting a poisonous or injurious drug namely insulin causing Florence to suffer from hypoglycaemia, collapse, convulsions and seizures, for which Florence needed immediate veterinary treatment to avoid coma and death.

Following her conviction, Miss Bretman was sentenced to a Community Payback Order, with a requirement to carry out 140 hours of unpaid work, and, in addition, an order was made to take Florence away from her and to ban her from owning a dog for two years.

The VN Disciplinary Committee hearing for Miss Bretman took place on Monday 20 and Tuesday 21 May 2019. Miss Bretman admitted the facts as contained within the charge against her and, at the outset of the hearing, the Committee found the charge proved.

The VN Disciplinary Committee went on to consider whether the charge rendered Miss Bretman unfit to practise. The Committee heard from Miss Bretman’s counsel, Mr O’Rourke QC who indicated that Miss Bretman accepted that her conviction rendered her unfit to practise as a Registered Veterinary Nurse.

The Committee found Miss Bretman’s actions in deliberately administering a poisonous substance to  Florence thereby risking Florence’s death to be “very serious and deplorable conduct on the part of a veterinary nurse, a member of a profession specifically entrusted to look after and care for animals.” It also took into account the fact that Florence needed urgent veterinary treatment to avoid death and that Miss Bretman was in a position of trust over Florence as her owner.

Stuart Drummond, chairing the Committee and speaking on its behalf, added: “Miss Bretman’s conduct was also liable to have a seriously detrimental effect on the reputation of the profession and to undermine public confidence in the profession. The fact that she was a veterinary nurse was made clear at the trial and reported in the press. The Committee considered that members of the public would be rightly appalled that a Registered Veterinary Nurse had committed an offence of this kind.

The Committee was satisfied that this conduct fell far below the standard expected of a Registered Veterinary Nurse and that Miss Bretman’s conviction was of a nature and seriousness that rendered her unfit to practise.”

The Committee then heard oral evidence from Miss Bretman in which she detailed that she had always been passionate about working with animals and working in the veterinary profession and detailed how she enjoyed her work as a veterinary nurse with a particular interest in hydrotherapy and rehabilitation. She spoke about the devastating effect of the incident and the shame that was ‘brought down on her head’.

"The conduct represented a serious departure from professional standards; serious harm was deliberately caused to an animal; the continued denial of the offence demonstrated a complete lack of insight, especially in regard to the impact of her behaviour on public confidence and trust in the profession. In light of these conclusions, the Committee decided that the only appropriate and proportionate sanction was removal from the Register."

She told the Committee that she had been suspended from her job and, since her conviction, had not worked as a veterinary nurse. Furthermore, Miss Bretman said that, while she accepted and respected the verdict of the court, her stance remained that she had not done what was alleged and now hoped to rebuild her career as a veterinary nurse. She accepted that the offence of which she had been convicted was very serious, particularly for a veterinary nurse.

In considering Miss Bretman’s sanction the Committee took into account the aggravating and mitigating factors. Aggravating factors included the fact there was actual injury to an animal, that it was a pre-meditated and deliberate act against an animal for whom she was responsible, the fact that a medicinal product was misused, a lack of insight and a lack of remorse.

In mitigation the Committee took into account the fact she had no previous disciplinary history, had received positive references and testimonials and that, following the conviction, she demonstrated a willingness to be removed from the Register and to not work with animals to avoid causing embarrassment to the RCVS.

"However, the need to protect animal welfare, the reputation of the profession and thus the wider public interest, outweighed Miss Bretman’s interests and the Committee concluded that removal was the only appropriate and proportionate sanction. The Committee determined that it was important that a clear message be sent that this sort of behaviour is wholly inappropriate and not to be tolerated. It brought discredit upon Miss Bretman and discredit upon the profession”.

Stuart Drummond said: “The Committee was of the view that the nature and seriousness of Miss Bretman’s behaviour, which led to the conviction, was fundamentally incompatible with being registered as a veterinary nurse. The conduct represented a serious departure from professional standards; serious harm was deliberately caused to an animal; the continued denial of the offence demonstrated a complete lack of insight, especially in regard to the impact of her behaviour on public confidence and trust in the profession. In light of these conclusions, the Committee decided that the only appropriate and proportionate sanction was removal from the Register.

“In reaching this decision the Committee recognised the impact this was likely to have on Miss Bretman, which was unfortunate given her young age and her obvious passion for a career as a veterinary nurse. The Committee had considered with care all the positive statements made about her in the references and testimonials provided.

"However, the need to protect animal welfare, the reputation of the profession and thus the wider public interest, outweighed Miss Bretman’s interests and the Committee concluded that removal was the only appropriate and proportionate sanction. The Committee determined that it was important that a clear message be sent that this sort of behaviour is wholly inappropriate and not to be tolerated. It brought discredit upon Miss Bretman and discredit upon the profession”.

The Committee then directed the RCVS Registrar to remove Miss Bretman’s name from the Register. Miss Bretman has 28 days from being notified of the Committee’s decision to submit an appeal.

Please note: This news story is a summary that is intended to assist in understanding the case and the Committee's decision but does not form part of the decision itself. The full facts and findings of the Disciplinary Committee are the only authoritative documents and are available to download from the DC hearings page.

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