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Northern Ireland nurse struck off for drug theft despite criminal case dropped

 

Altnagelvin Area Hospital in Londonderry, where Julie Miller had worked as a nurse for 21 years
Altnagelvin Area Hospital in Londonderry, where Julie Miller had worked as a nurse for 21 years

By Lisa Smyth

A nurse has been struck off for stealing sleeping tablets from Altnagelvin Area Hospital despite the fact a criminal case against her was dropped.

The Nursing and Midwifery Council found Julie Miller guilty of taking 14 Zopiclone tablets from a gynaecology ward at the hospital in November 2015.

It deemed her actions amounted to misconduct and she was subsequently struck off the professional register.

However, charges against Ms Miller - who consistently denied stealing the medication in police interviews - were dropped in 2017 after the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) directed no prosecution.

At the time, District Judge Peter King called on the Western Trust to immediately reinstate her. Londonderry Magistrates' Court heard Ms Miller, who had been working for the NHS for 30 years and who had an unblemished record, had always denied stealing drugs from the hospital.

In response, District Judge Peter King said: "If your client is able to return to her place of work doing an extremely important job in the health service, I believe that is something that should be pursued forthwith."

However, a Nursing and Midwifery Council fitness-to-practise hearing found Ms Miller guilty of taking 14 Zopiclone tablets from the drugs room on the gynaecology ward. The panel deemed that her actions were dishonest as she took the tablets without her employer's permission.

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The panel further found Ms Miller guilty of incorrectly removing a strip of medication from its box and incorrectly transporting medication in a plastic bag.

It also found that she had not recorded what drugs she had removed from the drugs cupboard and that her fitness to practise is impaired by reason of her misconduct.

Ms Miller had worked in the hospital for 21 years when she was recorded on CCTV footage removing various strips of tablets from the medicine cupboard and placing them in the plastic bag, the hearing was told.

It was alleged that these included a strip of 14 zopiclone tablets.

Ms Miller was one of two registered nurses on duty with access to the drugs room when the incident occurred on November 29, 2015. She was subsequently suspended from her job and then sacked after a trust investigation.

The panel was told that Ms Miller had consistently denied stealing the drugs and while it noted the DPP had directed no prosecution, "it reminded itself that a higher standard of proof is required for criminal proceedings".

It came to its decision after hearing that Ms Miller had given a variety of different accounts about where she had stored the medication and a drug count had not located them.

And while she was an experienced nurse, she had not followed the trust medication code, including the fact that they should have been placed in a medication trolley and should have been kept in their box.

Delivering its findings, the panel found that Ms Miller's actions fell "significantly short" of expected standards.

It said: "The panel was in no doubt that Ms Miller's actions, including her dishonesty, did fall seriously short of the conduct and standards expected of a nurse and amounted to misconduct."

It took into consideration a letter sent by Ms Miller last month in which she said she was "totally devastated", but said she had not shown any insight, meaning there was a "risk of repetition of her misconduct".

While the panel noted it was an isolated incident and that Ms Miller was regarded as a "good nurse" by colleagues, as well as the fact she had provided a positive testimony from an employer, it said her actions had "put patients at potential risk of harm".

It continued: "Balancing all of these factors and after taking into account all the evidence before it during this case, the panel determined that the appropriate and proportionate sanction is that of a striking-off order.

"Having regard to the effect of Ms Miller's actions in bringing the profession into disrepute by adversely affecting the public's view of how a registered nurse should conduct herself, the panel has concluded that nothing short of this would be sufficient in this case."

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