UK psych nurse struck loses license for being drunk on duty
October 7, 2013
A nurse who repeatedly dozed off while on duty after dangerously mixing anti-depressants with booze has been thrown out of the profession.
Deborah Sidwell snuck into a staff changing room to gulp down a bottle of sherry and lemonade while working as a mental health nurse at James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough.
Colleagues became concerned when Sidwell appeared unsteady on her feet and almost fell off a chair in her office, the Nursing and Midwifery Council heard.
Sidwell was so drunk that when she phoned NHS Professionals to cover a night shift she slurred her words and was unable to tell the operator her name, the hearing was told.
She also mixed alcohol with mirtazapine, an anti-depressant which can cause withdrawal symptoms of dizziness, agitation, and anxiety.
A conduct and competence committee has now thrown Sidwell out of the profession after finding her guilty of misconduct.
“Sleeping whilst on duty and attending work whilst under the influence of alcohol and drugs is wholly unacceptable conduct for a registered nurse”, panel chair Julian Weinberg said.
“The fact that this occurred on more than one occasion is an aggravating factor. The panel considered that Ms Sidwell’s behavior was fundamentally incompatible with remaining on the register.”
Sidwell first turned up for work drunk while she was the nurse in charge of a day shift on June 20, 2010. The tribunal heard that Sidwell was seen by healthcare assistants sitting at the nurse’s station staring at emergency buzzers as they sounded without responding.
She then kept falling asleep in areas including in the tearoom, an office, and a patient’s bay. Staff finally called Sidwell’s husband to collect her from work when her face was bright red and she was swaying, the hearing was told.
Despite a final warning, Sidwell then turned up for work “spaced out” on December 9, 2010 and again slept on duty.
“During the course of the shift other colleagues noticed that Mrs Sidwell appeared to be swaying and unsteady on her feet,” Mr Weinberg added. “They also noticed that she stumbled and staggered, that her speech was slurred.’”
After workmates smelled alcohol on Sidwell’s breath she was suspended - she told investigators that the smell must have been from her drinking the night before.
She also confirmed her use of mirtazapine while on duty.
Sidwell, who had worked for South Tees Hospital NHS Foundation Trust for more than 25 years, was eventually sacked for the two incidents in July 2011.
Sidwell, who did not attend the central London hearing and did not send a representative, admitted sleeping on duty and attending work on June 20, 2010, under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
She also admitted attending work under the influence of alcohol or mirtazapine on December 9, 2010. Sidwell has 28 days to appeal.
An interim suspension order of 18 months has been made to cover the appeal period.
A spokeswoman for South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: “We take incidents of this nature extremely seriously and following our own internal investigation we referred this case to the Nursing and Midwifery Council.
“We can confirm that Deborah Sidwell no longer works for the trust.”
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