Athletic icon nurse disciplined for harming elderly patients


A SCOTTISH nurse regarded as one of the best fell runners in the world has been disciplined for physically hurting and humiliating elderly patients.

Colin Donnelly, a former world and UK fell running champion, was recently described by his bosses at NHS Highland as an “athletic icon”.

But he was sacked from his hospital job and found guilty by the nursing watchdog of six charges, including waving a used incontinence pad just inches from a patient’s face.

Mr Donnelly embarrassed and harmed patients
Mr Donnelly embarrassed and harmed patients


The 55-year-old, whose Ben Nevis Race time has not been beaten for 28 years, was employed as a registered nurse at nearby Belford Hospital, Fort William.

Mr Donnelly, who had a previously unblemished 20-year nursing career, claimed NHS managers set out to get him and branded them “a coven of witches”.

A hearing of the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) in Edinburgh banned the athlete from nursing without supervision for 18 months.

But Mr Donnelly said he had no intention of ever returning to the profession.

A superstar of the fell running world, Mr Donnelly was the youngest man to win the Ben Nevis race in 1979, was three times British Fell running champion, and holds the unbeaten record for the 15 peaks in Wales of four hours 19 minutes.


The NMC, at a hearing in Edinburgh last week, heard that Mr Connelly was going through “personal health and work stress” at the time of the incidents between January and May last year.

Mr Donnelly had a previously unblemished career - Photo: Nick Bulloss
Mr Donnelly had a previously unblemished career – Photo: Nick Bulloss


On April 27 he used more force than necessary to move a stroke victim’s arm, causing her to cry out in pain.

When the same patient was unable to keep her other arm straight for an IV drip, Mr Donnelly said loudly “she’s starting to piss me off” within earshot of everyone in the room.

Later that day, Mr Donnelly held the same patient’s wet incontinence pad within a foot of her face, and said: “Look at this, look how wet you are.”


Another nurse working on the ward described the patient, who had difficulty speaking after a stroke, as looking “very embarrassed and hiding into herself”.

On separate occasions Mr Donnelly also used a “condemned” handling technique to move a patient onto a commode, threw a pyjama top onto the floor and refused to assist a patient who had fallen onto the floor, stating “he’s not my patient.”

Mr Donnelly is the youngest man to win the Ben Nevis race – Photo: Borrowdale Fell Runners


Mr Donnelly admitted two of the charges and the remaining were found proved by the NMC.

Mr Donnelly declined to comment following the conclusion of the case.

But during a break at the hearing he approached reporters to vent his anger at NHS Highland.

He said: “I got on the wrong side of management – they are all a coven of witches.

“They tore me to shreds. It was an awful place and I’ll never go back.

“This has been such a traumatic experience that I’m never going back to nursing. I don’t miss that place at all.”

In February last year, a month after the misconduct which led to his first charge, NHS Highland paid tribute to him on their website.

They stated: “NHS Highland can boast an athletic icon of our own in the shape of Colin Donnelly, a nurse at the Belford Hospital in Fort William.”

NHS Highland yesterday apologised “to all of the patients and families affected by this case”.
They added: “Patient safety is our utmost priority.”
The spokesman said that they were “pleased” at the NMC’s decision.
Asked why the board had praised Mr Donnelly as an “icon” a month after his first misdemeanor, they declined to comment.