Drunk nurse shames profession
It is a measure of the esteem we feel for nurses and the regard we have for the job they do that we are outraged when anyone in that caring profession falls below the standards we expect of them. Little wonder, then, that we are particularly appalled at the case of a nurse who was drunk at work at least four times in an eight-year period.
Nurses are in the front line of patient care, be it in hospital, in nursing homes or on home visits, and they are expected to perform their duties in all of those environments to laid down standards.
Their job can be one of life and death. They, not doctors, are the human monitors at the bedside of patients. That requires constant vigilance, total professionalism and a caring attitude to the people in their charge.
As we all know, that is exactly what the overwhelming majority of nurses provide on a daily basis. They may be overstretched, feel undervalued and have to put in long shifts, but they are constantly praised by patients as the most caring of care workers.
In the case of Mary O'Brien, that call of duty and standard of care was missing on several occasions. She has been struck off after turning up drunk for work at two Fermanagh nursing homes. It was also suggested that she had committed the same offence while registered as a nurse in the Republic.
On one occasion she abused colleagues, fell asleep, didn't administer medication and didn't notice that a gastric tube had dislodged from a patient leaking fluid onto the floor.
It is difficult to imagine a greater dereliction of duty than that. She was in charge of elderly vulnerable people, some of them disabled and some terminally ill. They deserved to receive the best possible care in their twilight years instead of being looked after by someone incapable of caring because of drink.
But what is equally disturbing is that her conduct was allowed to continue for so long.
Concerns were first raised in 2007 and she appeared before the profession's regulatory body, the Nursing and Midwifery Council, in 2012 for being drunk at work three years earlier.
She was merely cautioned and it was only after two further transgressions that she was finally struck off. It appears that it took an unduly long time and repeated offences for the NMC to come to the correct decision in this case. This was repetitive behaviour that could have compromised patient safety, the prime concern of any nurse.