Article written by Richard Gorman, paralegal
Nursing and Midwifery Council v Meethoo  EWHC 4163 (Admin)
In a judgment delivered in September 2015 but only recently published, the High Court refused an application made by the Nursing and Midwifery Council ('the NMC') for a 12-month extension of an interim suspension order, instead granting an extension for just under 6 months. The application was made on the basis that a forthcoming inquest might yield further relevant information. The court found that the NMC had not proceeded with enough urgency in bringing the fitness to practise proceedings to a conclusion, as Mr Meethoo had been subject to multiple interim suspension order extensions or renewals for over two years since the incident with which the disciplinary proceedings were concerned.
In September 2013 it was alleged that Mr Meethoo had failed to check on a patient with mental health difficulties at 15-minute intervals as required. During a 41-minute period between checks the patient had committed suicide. It was further alleged that Mr Meethoo had falsified documents concerning his supervision of the patient. An interim suspension order was made, and Mr. Meethoo was charged with a criminal offence. In April 2015, Mr Meethoo was acquitted of the criminal charges against him. A coroner's inquest was due to take place in April 2016, which the NMC submitted (in autumn 2015) justified a 12-month extension to Mr Meethoo's suspension, on the basis that relevant information might come to light during the inquest. The court disagreed and found that the mere possibility that something new might be disclosed in the inquest did not justify putting the disciplinary proceedings on hold for a further 12 months.
The court took several factors into consideration when rejecting the NMC's application. These include the gravity of the allegations, the seriousness of the risk of harm, the prejudice to the nurse if the interim order was continued and the reasons why the disciplinary proceedings had not been concluded. The court found that a further 12-month extension would take Mr Meethoo's suspension to over four years from the date of the incident with which the disciplinary proceedings were concerned and would leave Mr Meethoo in limbo and unable to work as a nurse for the whole of that time. In refusing the application for an extension of 12 months the Court indicated that the NMC should proceed with greater urgency in bringing the disciplinary proceedings to a conclusion.
The case is a useful reminder that, even in very serious cases involving parallel proceedings, the court will scrutinise extension applications with great care.