The RCVS Veterinary Nurses Disciplinary Committee (VN DC) has ordered that a veterinary nurse be removed from the Register after they found that she had been dishonest about an injury she allegedly sustained while working in practice in August 2015.
The inquiry in regard to Karen Tracey Hancock took place from Monday 18 to Thursday 21 January and proceeded in her absence. This was after Mrs Hancock indicated via email correspondence that she was content to neither appear at the hearing nor be represented, although she did submit some evidence in advance via email.
The charges against Mrs Hancock related to an injury she falsely claimed she sustained to her knee while moving a euthanased dog on 13 August 2015 that was then exacerbated while moving another dog on 29 August. The specifics of the charges were that she, between 26 November 2015 and 4 December 2015, dishonestly stated in a letter to her then employers that she had sustained these injuries due to the above two incidents. The charges also stated that, on a date between 13 August and 7 December 2015, she had made entries in the practice’s accident book also stating that she had injured her knee at work on 13 August 2015 and had aggravated the injury at work on 29 August 2015.
Furthermore, the charges also stated that, in County Court civil proceedings against the practice in relation to the alleged injuries, she falsely:
- Issued a claim notification form dated 22 January 2016 stating that she had sustained a knee injury caused by her work at the practice in August 2015;
- Signed a statement dated 30 June 2017 stating that she had sustained a knee injury at work on 13 August 2015 which had then been aggravated at work on the 29 August 2015;
- Issued Particulars of Claim dated 13 July 2018 stating that she had sustained a knee injury caused by her work at the practice on 13 August 2015.
The Committee first made its determinations on the facts of the case. The Committee noted that the County Court claim made by Mrs Hancock was listed for a trial and concluded with a consent order dated 21 June 2019 which stated that the claim was dismissed. It also considered evidence from eyewitnesses regarding the two alleged events that led to and exacerbated her knee injury in August 2015. In doing so the Committee found that, though Mrs Hancock did have an injury to her right knee, this was due to a horse-riding incident a number of years earlier and that her account of the incidents on 13 and 29 August, and therefore her claims to have been caused injury by them, were false and that her conduct had been dishonest. The Committee therefore found all charges against Mrs Hancock proven.
The Committee then considered whether the proven charges amounted to serious professional misconduct. In doing so it considered submissions made by Counsel for the RCVS that there were a number of aggravating factors in the case of Mrs Hancock’s conduct including that the misconduct was sustained over a long period of time, was premeditated and involved lying for financial gain.
In commenting on whether the conduct was serious professional misconduct Judith Way, chairing the Committee and speaking on its behalf, said: “The Committee found all of the aggravating factors set out… in this case applied to its decision on whether or not the conduct amounted to disgraceful conduct in a professional respect.
“Such conduct would bring the profession of veterinary nurses into disrepute and would undermine public confidence in the profession because the dishonesty was directly concerned with the respondent’s work as a veterinary nurse in the veterinary practice.
“The Committee concluded that the dishonest behaviour was serious misconduct, particularly so because it took place at the respondent’s workplace. It considered that honesty and trust between veterinary nurses and their employers is essential to the profession and that such conduct as set out in the charges would be considered deplorable by other members of the profession.”
The Committee was therefore satisfied that all four charges individually and cumulatively amounted to serious professional misconduct.
Committee members then considered the appropriate sanction for Mrs Hancock, taking into account the aggravating factors, including a lack of insight in that, in correspondence before the hearing, she continued to deny the charges. In mitigation it noted that there had been a significant lapse of time and that she had a long and hitherto unblemished career.
On balance it decided that removal from the Register was the appropriate and proportionate sanction and requested Mrs Hancock be removed from the Register, particularly as dishonesty is considered “in the top spectrum of gravity” for misconduct.
Judith Way added: “The Committee acknowledged that the respondent was physically unwell with her knee between 2015 and 2019. However there was no evidence that her health had caused her to commit the misconduct. It noted the representations that the respondent made regarding the need to support herself financially but the Committee determined that the public interest outweighed the respondent’s own interests in this case because the proven dishonesty in the circumstances in which it took place was fundamentally incompatible with continued professional registration.
“In the Committee’s judgment without any evidence of remorse or insight by the respondent a suspension order could not meet the public interest in this case. It therefore concluded that removal of the Respondent’s name from the register was the proportionate and appropriate sanction in this case.”