A Countess of Chester Hospital nurse was given a suspension order after turning up to work under the influence of alcohol, a panel heard.
Catherine Hampton breached a ‘fundamental tenet’ of her profession when she turned up 50 minutes late for her shift at the hospital’s coronary care unit on May 5 2016 slurring her words, a disciplinary panel of the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) was told.
They heard how Ms Hampton, an employee of the Countess’ Foundation Trust since 2003, arrived late that day saying she had had to make several personal phone calls.
Her colleagues on the ward were aware that there were personal issues going on in her life at the time, and as a result they accepted her explanation.
A short while later she began laughing ‘inappropriately’ while discussing patients with a colleague, but although this was slightly unusual, it did not create too much of a concern.
However, when providing the shift handover, the colleague noticed Ms Hampton’s handwritten notes were ‘large and untidy’ and that she was writing off the edge of the page.
The colleague also noticed that her words were slurred and her pupils were dilated, so informed the ward matron of her concerns.
When questioned, Ms Hampton admitted she had been drinking into the early hours of the morning and after another colleague observed her erratic behaviour, she was suspended from work pending an internal investigation and asked to contact police to tell them she had driven to work under the influence of alcohol.
When she did so, she was found to be three times over the drink driving limit after failing a breath test and later that month was given a 24-month driving ban, £170 fine and 20 day community order by Chester magistrates.
A report of the NMC hearing stated that although it was an isolated incident, Ms Hampton’s actions were ‘a serious departure from the standards expected of a registered nurse' and the panel found it involved ‘a clear breach’ of her responsibility.
“Your behaviour clearly placed these patients under your care at risk of harm although there was no evidence of direct harm as, on that day, your condition happened to have been quickly identified by your colleagues,” it read.
“The panel acknowledged the information it has been provided with regarding your difficult personal circumstances at the time of the incident. However, the panel was of the view that this does not excuse attending work as a registered nurse whilst under the influence of alcohol.
“Such behaviour clearly had the potential to cause harm to patients and has brought the reputation of your profession into disrepute. Further, by attending work under the influence of alcohol your actions also had the potential to harm yourself and your colleagues.”
Ms Hampton’s ‘difficult’ personal and health related circumstances were taken into account and the panel heard how she had taken action to address and effectively manage them.
Issue of remorse
They also recognised she had fully engaged with the NMC, made full admissions and demonstrated remorse throughout her evidence, saying she felt ‘disgusted and ashamed’ of her behaviour.
However, they said although the progress she has made is ‘admirable’, there was an ‘ongoing risk’ of her behaviour being repeated and as such, the nature of Ms Hampton’s behaviour and conviction had brought the profession into disrepute.
A suspension order was appropriate as her behaviour had breached a fundamental tenet of the nursing profession and undermined public confidence.
As a result, Ms Hampton was handed a six-month suspension order and has 28 days to appeal.
A Countess of Chester Hospital spokesperson said: “We do not comment on individual cases.”