A BUNGLING nurse has made Scottish legal history after winning the right to return to work.
Ellen Agnes Murray was struck off last year after she wrongly told a man he had cancer and took an insect into an operating theatre.
Despite making such serious mistakes, Ms Murray managed this week to have her striking off order reversed and replaced with a period of suspension.
The move by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) means Ms Murray could be free next year to apply for hospital jobs.
The U-turn is the first in Scotland since a controversial ruling by the High Court in London which stopped the NMC striking off nurses for incompetence.
Politicians and patients’ groups said they were astonished by the development, warning it posed a threat to patient safety.
It means bungling nurses currently in work can only be suspended from practising, no matter how much harm they cause to patients. The ruling has also opened the doors to struck off nurses such as Ms Murray to return to work.
Ms Murray, who worked at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, was struck off in December 2012 after 22 charges were found proven by a panel.
In February 2008, Ms Murray was told by a member of staff that a male patient “may have cancer” but instead the nurse recorded that the man “had cancer”.
The same year she picked up a silverfish insect and took it into an operating theatre as proof of an “infestation near the toilet area”.
The NMC declared at the time: ”A Striking-off Order is the only appropriate and proportionate sanction in this case to protect the public, uphold proper standards and public confidence in the profession.”
But at an NMC hearing in Edinburgh this week, the striking off order was dropped and lawyers argued over what lesser sanction she should face.
Jonathan Guy, for Ms Murray, opposed suspension and said his client wanted to return to the profession and work under supervision.
“She has made clear admissions to nearly all the charges and shown insight into her failings,” said Mr Guy.
“There was no patient harm so it is possible to put restrictions in place to prevent harm to patients. If she is being closely supervised, those errors should be able to be identified before they result in actual harm.”
NMC representative Christian Garsed asked the panel to “determine the most appropriate sanction” that would keep public confidence in the NMC and maintain public safety.
He said: “This is a case involving a sustained lack of competence from 2007 to 2010. Her entire nursing career career has been characterised by a lack of competence.
“It has given rise to a risk of harm to patients, whilst being provided with substantial supported by those around her.”
The panel imposed a 12-month suspension, saying “patients were exposed to an unacceptable chance of harm”.
Speaking last month, Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said: “The position now seems to be it doesn’t matter what a nurse does, they are virtually untouchable.
“It renders the NMC more-or-less toothless on disciplinary matters, and the only losers in that situation are the patients.
“It also threatens to undermine the reputation the vast majority of nurses have for hard work and dedication, and they too will be rightly concerned.”
The High Court ruling followed the case of a midwife who worked at a hospital in Kent and was struck off on competence grounds in January 2012.
Mercy Ngozi Okeke, a midwife at Queen Margaret’s Hospital in Sidcup, successfully challenged her striking off despite a series of blunders including effectively “strangling” a newborn baby after she did not untangle the umbilical cord.
In February this year, Mr Justice Leggatt ruled the decision to strike her off was unlawful, adding the delay of almost five years in bringing her case to a full hearing was unreasonable.
The NMC’s own rules say a nurse must be continuously suspended for a period of two years before a striking off order can be made in competence cases.
Ms Okeke had been given a series of interim suspensions, which can be made without a full hearing, for more than four years.
But Mr Justice Leggatt ruled this did not count as being continuously suspended, and the decision was therefore unlawful.