Belfast nurse suspended for slapping colleague on bottom and lewd messages
A male nurse working in a regional unit for children with learning disabilities has been suspended for a year after he was found guilty of a litany of vulgar and sexually motivated behaviour towards female junior colleagues.
A fitness to practise hearing found James Houston sent a series of extremely lewd text messages to one colleague, including telling her he wanted to have sex with her and asking what colour of underwear she was wearing.
The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) panel also found him guilty of inappropriately lifting the nursing assistant, commenting on her figure and telling her he was going to put her over his knee.
He was also found guilty of asking another junior colleague for a massage, suggesting she should wear a thong, slapping her on the bottom and putting his hands on her leg and thigh when it wasn't required.
The panel heard Houston sent multiple lewd text messages to both women, including messages where he would make reference to extreme sex acts and having sex with them.
One of the victims told the hearing that when she asked Houston to stop touching her leg, he told her to sit down and said: "Stop shouting, people will think I'm raping you."
Despite this Houston, who was working as a band five staff nurse at the Iveagh Centre in west Belfast at the time the incidents occurred in 2016 and 2017, will be allowed to return to nursing in 12 months.
Iveagh Centre is a purpose-built facility that provides assessment and treatment services for children with learning disabilities, and replaced services provided at Muckamore Abbey Hospital in Antrim.
An NMC fitness to practise panel said the allegations that had been proven "related to a failure to maintain professional boundaries" and were "sufficiently serious to amount to misconduct".
The panel said Houston's conduct "was aggravated by the fact that it was not isolated but related to a pattern of behaviour over a period of some 12 months" and continued even after his victims asked him to stop.
Houston also abused his position of seniority, according to the fitness to practise panel's findings, and his behaviour had the potential to place patients at Iveagh Centre at "potential risk of harm" as his junior colleagues were being distracted by his actions.
It said: "The panel determined that your actions would be deemed deplorable by fellow professionals."
Houston admitted six of the 18 charges he faced, including sending inappropriate text and Facebook messages, telling a colleague she had "some wiggle" on her, asking a colleague if she had ever had a threesome and what colour of underwear she was wearing, as well as inappropriately lifting her.
He was found not guilty of four other charges, including squeezing one colleague's knee and groping his other colleague's bottom, but was found guilty of the remaining charges, with the panel deciding that eight of the charges were sexually motivated.
Explaining the findings, the panel said: "You stated that the inappropriate messages you admitted to sending to Colleague 1 on Facebook Messenger were based on banter, humour and innuendo... however, in her evidence to this panel, Colleague 1 was clear she did not consider those messages as part of banter, humour or innuendo.
"She said that they were very degrading and disrespectful.
"In all the circumstances, the panel determined that the comments in the messages and your behaviour as described in some of the charges were inherently sexual in nature.
"You also accepted that your messages related to references to masturbation, ejaculation and sexual intercourse."
The NMC panel deemed that Houston was guilty of misconduct and that his fitness to practise was impaired.
In deciding to suspend Houston's licence to practise for 12 months instead of issuing a striking off order, the panel noted there were no concerns about his clinical skills and that the misconduct, whilst serious, "was not fundamentally incompatible with you continuing to be a registered nurse and that the public interest considerations in this case could be satisfied by a less severe outcome than permanent removal from the register".
The panel noted there was no direct involvement of patients, no criminal conviction and Houston was not registered as a sex offender.
It also said Houston had engaged with the NMC, had shown insight and expressed remorse.
"The panel concluded that it would be appropriate and proportionate, in all the circumstances, to give you the opportunity to reflect further on your actions, in order to fully appreciate the concerns identified in your practice," the fitness to practise panel added.