Struck off nurse was unfit for work - just days after returning from suspension

Sunderland Royal Hospital
Sunderland Royal Hospital

A nurse who turned up for work unfit through drink just four days after returning from a six-month suspension for similar allegations has been struck off.

Christine Baker had been handed the ban for working while under the influence of alcohol at Sunderland Royal Hospital on Boxing Day 2012.

She was suspended for six months but found to be unfit again on July 1 2013, four days after returning to work, the Nursing and Midwifery Council heard.

A junior sister, at Sunderland Royal Hospital, referred to as Ms 1, told the hearing that Baker was "unsteady on her feet", "swaying from side to side" and "slurring her words". at work on December 26, 2012.

She said that she could not smell any alcohol on Baker, but only strawberry chewing gum.

Another nurse told Ms 1 that she was not prepared to work with Baker "in that state", the hearing was told.

Ms 1 told the panel that she had socialised with Baker and had seen her sober, drunk and with a hangover.

Baker claimed that she was not drunk, claiming she was just unwell and tired.

She said she had just returned from a cottage, where she had spent Christmas, and denied she had been drinking.

As a result of this Baker was suspended by the hospital and returned to work on June 28, 2013.

Just four days later the senior urology nurse at the hospital, referred to as Ms 2, was due to work with Baker.

She said that when Baker arrived for work she appeared "flushed" and "did not seem to be herself".

She also noticed "a smell of stale alcohol" on Baker when they were stood at the nurses' station.

At this time Baker was on a phased return to work following the six-month absence.

The shift was her first clinical duty and she was due to come in for the morning shift but failed to show up.

She was then needed for an afternoon shift and reluctantly agreed.

Ms 2 informed her manager, Ms 3, who contacted the matron of the directorate of urology iat City Hospitals Sunderland.

The matron, referred to as Ms 4, summoned Baker to her office but Baker did not go to see her for 20-30 minutes.

After finally speaking to Ms 4, Baker went into the staff toilet and refused to come out.

Ms 3 told the panel that she could not open the door as Baker "was sitting on the floor with her back against the door and her feet against the toilet bowl".

She sat outside the door and tried to persuade Baker to come out but she refused to budge.

Patients were walking past the whole time as the toilet was next to the patient's changing room, said Ms 3.

Baker remained in the toilet for and hour and a half and her speech became more slurred, the hearing was told.

Ms 4 said: "She was not fit to be on shift that day and she did not care that patients would hear."

Later Ms 3 went to Baker's house only for Baker to slam the door in her face.

An NMC investigation revealed Baker had been convicted on May 10, 2013, at South Tyneside District Magistrates' Court of drink driving.

Baker had received 26 weeks imprisonment, suspended for 24 months and was disqualified from driving for 36 months.

She admitted that she did not disclose this to the Trust, nor did she disclose it to the NMC.

Her registration was suspended by the NMC for an interim period of 18 months on November 14 2014.

Baker had started working at Appleby Care Home in June or July 2014.

She indicated on her application form that she had a conviction for driving with excess alcohol and had been dismissed by her previous employer.

But at no stage did she inform them that she had become the subject of an interim suspension order.

NMC panel chair Pamela Ormerod said: "The panel concluded that Ms Baker had, in the past, placed patients at significant risk of harm, by attending work whilst unfit to do so.

"By working as a registered nurse whilst suspended from doing so by her regulator, Ms Baker placed patients at the home at a real risk of serious harm.

"By attending work whilst unfit, receiving a conviction for drink driving, and by acting dishonestly to both of her employers and regulator, Ms Baker has, in the past brought the nursing profession into disrepute.

"By breaking the law, placing patients at risk of harm and acting dishonestly, Ms Baker has breached fundamental tenets of the nursing profession, namely honesty and integrity."

"Ms Baker had been aware that she was subject to an interim suspension order since at least 21 November, 2014.

"She had deliberately concealed this from the Home until they were made aware of the order on 18 December, 2014, by the NMC.

"Given the seriousness of Ms Baker's misconduct and her conviction and her lack of insight into and remediation of her failings, a striking-off order is the only sanction sufficient to protect the public."

All charges against Baker were found proved and she was struck off the NMC register.