The Veterinary Nurse Disciplinary Committee of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) has suspended a Suffolk-based veterinary nurse from the Register for three months after she admitted dishonestly taking a prescription-only veterinary medication, as well as pet food, from a veterinary practice.
Prior to the start of the hearing, which took place from Monday 22 to Tuesday 23 August, the respondent, Stephanie Hazelwood, admitted all three charges against her. These were:
- that she had, on three separate occasions, taken bags of pet food from the practice without paying for them
- that she had taken a prescription-only veterinary medication, from the practice without paying for it or having a prescription from a veterinary surgeon for the product
- that her conduct in relation to the previous two charges was dishonest and in respect of the latter, risked undermining procedures there to protect animal welfare
Having accepted her admissions on the charges, the Committee considered whether the three charges amounted to serious professional misconduct. Regarding misconduct, Ms Hazelwood had also written to the RCVS prior to the start of the hearing and had accepted her conduct fell far short of what was expected of a veterinary nurse.
The Committee itself considered that Ms Hazelwood stealing the medication and other products was a serious breach of the trust placed in her by her employer, which had entrusted her with access to veterinary medications and their responsible use. The Committee also considered that her conduct undermined the reputation of the profession and the public’s confidence in those within it. Accordingly, the Committee found that the charges amounted to serious professional conduct.
In considering the sanction for Ms Hazelwood, the Committee first took into account the aggravating and mitigating factors surrounding her conduct. In terms of aggravating factors, the Committee considered that her conduct was a breach of trust and abuse of her professional position, that there was a possible risk to animal health in terms of the prescription-only veterinary medicine, that the conduct involved financial gain (albeit limited), that the conduct was sustained and repeated over a period of time, and that elements of her conduct were premeditated and sophisticated.
In terms of mitigation, the Committee noted that Ms Hazelwood had no previous disciplinary history and a hitherto unblemished career, that she had made open and frank admissions on her conduct and demonstrated genuine remorse, that there was no actual harm to animals, and that she demonstrated significant insight into her actions and the impact they could have on her colleagues and the wider profession, as well as taking into account a number of positive testimonials.
Judith Way, chairing the Committee and speaking on its behalf, said: “The Committee noted the mitigating factors in this case and that Ms Hazelwood stole these items at a time when she was under particular financial and personal pressure. She said it was out of character and her testimonials supported this assertion. The amounts involved were small and had been repaid.
“Furthermore, it was apparent that at the time Ms Hazelwood was struggling financially and her motivation was not so much financial gain but rather the need to feed and protect her animals. It was unfortunate that Ms Hazelwood had not attended this hearing, but in her written submissions she had, in the Committee’s view, demonstrated significant insight. Her writing came from the heart, she clearly recognised what a dreadful thing she had done and provided genuine expressions of apology and remorse.
“The Panel noted that Ms Hazelwood had worked as a veterinary nurse for some 16 years without incident. Her testimonials describe her as a very experienced and competent nurse, with an excellent work ethic and a real passion for the animals in her care.”
She added: “The Committee considered a period of suspension to mark the behaviour was both appropriate and proportionate in all the circumstances. The order will be for a period of three months to reflect the seriousness of Ms Hazelwood’s disgraceful conduct, whilst reflecting the significant mitigation…. In light of the insight she has shown, the Committee was satisfied that it was highly unlikely Ms Hazelwood would ever behave in this way again and that she would be fit to return to practice after the period of suspension.
“The Committee considered it would be wrong to deprive the profession of an otherwise competent veterinary nurse and that a member of the public in full possession of all the facts would not have their confidence in the profession undermined by such a decision.”
The full details of the case and the Committee’s decision can be found at on the RCVS website.