The RCVS veterinary nurse disciplinary committee (VNDC) has struck a VN off the register after she was found to have been working under the influence of alcohol.
Somerset-based VN Nicola Buttler – who did not attend her hearing at the college from 19 to 21 June, having stated in advance she was not going to engage with the disciplinary process – was charged with having been under the influence of alcohol while at work on two occasions, both of which took place while she was working as a locum:
It was also alleged a prior conviction of drink-driving in November 2013 rendered her unfit to practise.
- between 25 and 28 April 2016 in Frome
- from 3 July to 4 July 2016 in Salisbury
The VNDC said it heard from five witnesses for the first charge, including three VNs and one vet. They gave testimony they had cause to suspect Ms Buttler was under the influence of alcohol due to her demeanour, and recalled her repeatedly retreating upstairs to her accommodation during the working day. Further, an open wine bottle was found in Ms Buttler’s accommodation and was observed to have been drunk during the course of her shift. The VNDC therefore found the first charge proved.
With the second charge, the committee heard from four witnesses, two of whom stated they smelled alcohol on Ms Buttler’s breath while she was on duty, and one of them stating further she had slurred speech and a flushed face at the end of a 14-hour shift. The other two witnesses also presented evidence to support the assertion Ms Buttler was under the influence.
The VNDC also found Ms Buttler to lack credibility because she had denied having any alcohol on the premises when originally confronted, yet later admitted in a college email she had had an open bottle of wine in her bag. The committee, therefore, found the second charge proved.
On the conviction in 2013, the VNDC considered the certificate of conviction obtained from North and East Devon Magistrates’ Court, and was satisfied Ms Buttler had been convicted of driving with excess alcohol.
Lack of insight
When considering whether these all amounted to disgraceful conduct in a professional respect, the VNDC decided it was concerned about Ms Buttler showing no insight into her drinking and the repeated nature of the offences.
It also considered being under the influence of alcohol when working as a VN was conduct that fell far short of the expected standards. It, therefore, concluded Ms Buttler was guilty of disgraceful conduct in respect of both charges.
On considering Ms Buttler’s conviction rendering her unfit to practise as a VN, the committee concluded she had not acknowledged the seriousness of her actions in 2013, or learned any lessons from it. Accordingly, it felt she continued to pose a risk to animals and the public. The VNDC also felt the conviction undermined the reputation of the VN profession because the offence inevitably involved a risk of injury to herself and other road users.
Having found Ms Buttler guilty of misconduct, the VNDC considered sanction, taking into account aggravating factors including:
It also considered mitigating factors, including this being the first disciplinary hearing Ms Buttler has faced, she did not cause any harm to any animal and did not gain financially from her conduct.
- risk of injury to an animal
- the first two charges involving an element of premeditation
- Ms Buttler being under the influence on more than one shift in each practice
- no evidence of insight from Ms Buttler
- a future risk to animals if she continued to practice unrestricted
Chairing the VNDC, Jane Downes said: “The VNDC noted Ms Buttler said she had worked for 20 years without any problem and was previously of good character. However, because there was no evidence Ms Buttler would not repeat the conduct with regards to working while under the influence of alcohol, she could continue to pose a risk to animals or the public in the future. The committee, therefore, was bound to consider her removal from the register.
“Although it noted from the brief email correspondence Ms Buttler had sent to the college she said she did not intend to practise in the future, the VNDC decided that, until she had shown insight into her behaviour in 2016, she remained a risk to animals. It, therefore, decided the proportionate action was to instruct the registrar to remove her name from the register of veterinary nurses forthwith.”
If Ms Buttler chooses to re-engage with the college, she can apply for restoration to the register after 10 months.