• High court judge criticises “superficial” Nursing and Midwifery Council investigation
  • Nurse was suspected of having caused bruises and injuries to her 14 week old baby
  • NMC investigators did not properly pursue evidence and lawyers advised there was no case to answer
  • Judge says the regulator failed to appreciate the public interest in thoroughly investigating nurses accused of misconduct

A high court judge has heavily criticised the Nursing and Midwifery Council for what she described as the regulator’s “superficial approach” and “flawed” investigation of a nurse suspected of harming her 14 week old baby.

Mrs Justice Elisabeth Laing said the NMC had in this case failed to recognise the “public interest in the thorough investigation” of nurses suspected of misconduct, and criticised NMC investigators for their “minimal efforts” to gather evidence.

She also ruled that the NMC’s lawyer had “misdirected” a fitness to practise panel which concluded last year that the nurse, who had her child taken into care and had been sacked by her trust due to concerns over her treatment of the baby, had no case to answer.

In 2014 a family court ruled that the nurse, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was potentially to blame for the baby’s injuries. The injuries included multiple bruises, three rib fractures, and fractures to four different bones in both of the baby’s legs.

The court said the nurse had failed to protect the baby and a psychological assessment had raised issues about her fitness to practise.

NMC investigators asked the court for a transcript of the case but were told they would need to make an application, which they never did. The investigators never pursued the matter beyond writing one letter.

The NMC also failed to get evidence from clinicians who had treated the baby and referred the case to social services. At the nurse’s fitness to practise hearing, the lawyer for the regulator wrongly told the panel that it should find there was no case to answer.

However, the Professional Standards Authority, which oversees professional regulators, including the NMC, appealed the case to the High Court last month.

In her verdict Justice Laing recorded her “unease at the superficial approach which the NMC took to gathering evidence”.

She wrote: “The NMC recognised that evidence about the proceedings in the Family Court was relevant, but took no proper steps to get that evidence. It simply gave up when it received [the court’s] reply to its inquiry, and then, wrongly, decided that it would be disproportionate to do more.”

The judge said failing to get direct evidence from medical professionals “does not in any way recognise the public interest in the thorough investigation of allegations of misconduct by registrants, and the need to maintain public confidence by investigating such allegations properly.”

She said the NMC’s approach to gathering evidence in the case was “flawed” and relied on “minimal efforts to gather evidence in order to offer no evidence, when the facts clearly demanded an answer from the [nurse].

“The NMC took too passive an approach to gathering evidence. The NMC realised that it should make an effort to get documents about the family court proceedings but did nothing to get them apart from writing one letter, and then wrongly gave the impression that it had tried harder than it had done, and had failed and that it would be disproportionate to do more.”

Mark Stobbs, director of scrutiny and quality at the Professional Standards Authority, said: “This case demonstrates why the authority’s oversight of regulators’ fitness to practise processes is vital. The NMC failed to recognise that such serious safeguarding matters directly impact a registrant’s fitness to practise, whether the child is a patient or not.”

Justice Laing ordered the NMC to reconsider the case and ordered the regulator to gather more evidence.

An NMC spokesman said: “This is clearly a very serious incident involving injury to a baby. We’ll consider the judge’s decision carefully and we have already made changes to our procedural guidance to reflect the judge’s findings.”