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Warning for vet nurse convicted of being drunk in aircraft

The RCVS veterinary nurse disciplinary committee has issued a vet nurse a reprimand and formal warning as to her future conduct after she was convicted of being drunk in an aircraft.

Katherine Heyes RVN came before the committee from Wednesday, September 27th to Thursday, September 28th, 2022, to consider a charge against her.

She previously had been convicted of entering an aircraft when drunk / being drunk in an aircraft after pleading guilty at Greater Manchester Magistrates’ Court in July 2020.

Following this, the judge sentenced her to a community order consisting of unpaid work for 80 hours and ordered her to pay a victim surcharge of £80 and a further £250 in costs.

At the start of the hearing, Heyes admitted the facts of her 2020 conviction, outlining the above in respect of fees and community order work.

However, she denied that the conviction rendered her unfit to practise as a vet nurse.

The committee found that the facts of the case were proved on admission by Heyes and on the basis that the certificate of a conviction referred to the criminal offence to which Heyes had pleaded guilty to.

In reaching its decision, the committee considered the evidence before it and the advice of the legal assessor.

RCVS veterinary nurse

It considered whether her conduct amounted to serious professional misconduct. In doing so, it noted that the disciplinary guidance stated:

“A conviction may be related to professional or personal behaviour. Whether it renders a respondent veterinary surgeon unfit to practise is a matter of judgment for the disciplinary committee”.

“Behaviour unconnected with the practice of veterinary surgery can cause concerns about the protection of animals or the wider public interest.”

The committee concluded that “the conviction and underlying behaviour was sufficiently serious that it required a finding that Ms Heyes was unfit to practise veterinary nursing on public interest grounds”.

It found that she also breached Code 6.5 of the Code of Professional Conduct for Veterinary Nurses, which states:

“Vet nurses must not engage in any activity or behaviour that would be likely to bring the profession into disrepute or undermine public confidence in the profession.”

Factors

Having found serious professional misconduct proven, the committee went on to consider the most appropriate sanction for Heyes, taking into account the relevant aggravating and mitigating factors.

In terms of the aggravating factors, the committee considered that the nature of the conviction would have caused a risk to passengers, including children.

It concluded that Heyes had behaved “recklessly, falling far below the standard expected of a member of the veterinary nursing profession”.

In mitigation, the committee considered this a “single and isolated” incident. Heyes had no previous disciplinary findings against her, and following her conviction, she had shown “developing insight”.

It noted that she had continued to practise as a “competent and dedicated” vet nurse.

A spokesperson on behalf of the committee revealed that it decided to reprimand Heyes because of its finding that the charge amounted to “disgraceful” conduct and rendered Heyes unfit to practise.

The spokesperson outlined that such a sanction was “necessary” in the committee’s view because the conviction brought the profession “into disrepute”.

The committee considered the overall circumstances of the case, including the positive references and the fact that a number of mitigating factors set out in the disciplinary committee sanctions guidance were present in this case.

The spokesperson explained: “The committee was satisfied that this sanction would meet the public interest and protect the reputation of the profession and uphold standards within the profession; thereby maintaining public confidence in the college as the regulator for veterinary nurses.”

“Whilst the charge was not so serious as to require suspension or removal from the register, the committee decided it is necessary to issue a formal warning to Ms Heyes as to her future conduct,” they concluded.

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