A Brighton nurse has been struck off for filming videos of herself taking laughing gas in the Royal Sussex A&E drugs cupboard while on duty.
Helen Smithson, a nurse of 32 years, also took temazepan which a junior colleague had stolen, and failed to raise the alarm when he told her he’d stolen a syringe of morphine.
She also filmed the same colleague semi naked in a patient gown sitting both on a hospital bed and on a commode – and then sent him the videos via social media.
At a Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) fitness to practice hearing last week, the panel was shown these three videos plus two more in which she filmed herself taking the opiate oxycodone, which she described as “yummy – so naughty”.
And it saw screengrabs from a private social media group in which she insulted the trust employees who were investigating allegations about her, saying: “The witch finder general and her monkey looked a bit ridiculous in all honesty.”
In the first video, Smithson and the colleague are taking entonox – or laughing gas – in the store room and laughing and messing about. Miss Smithson is seen making an obscene gesture.
In the second and third, the colleague is wearing the hospital gown and Miss Smithson’s voice can be heard in the background.
A chain of messages sent on social media between the pair were also shown to the panel in March 2016. The junior colleague sent a picture of a syringe to Miss Smithson, saying it was filled with oramorph (morphine).
Miss Smithson replied: “Hahahah how the Fook did you sneak that bad boy out…. You are sooooo naughty…”
In another exchange the colleague said: “Managed to get 2 10mg temazepam gf. We’ll have one each.”
And in a third, the colleague said: “Meet me in the plaster room. Got 2 entenox canisters! xx let’s get high”
Miss Smithson replied: “Well as much opiates,” the colleague said: “I’ll save you one,” and Miss Smithson said: “Ok yeah always worth a try…… Even if I do puke.”
All of the videos and screenshots were sent to Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust in July 2016 on a USB stick with an anonymous covering letter. Miss Smithson, who had started working in A&E at the Royal Sussex in 2010, left the following month.
The charges were first discussed at an NMC hearing in October 2018, but this was postponed until 21 January when some amendments to the charges were made.
Miss Smithson had intended to attend the hearing via videolink, but had not been heard from since a NMC officer had attempted to test the link on her laptop on 18 January.
The hearing was told that someone had answered her phone that morning and said “Ms Smithson was having a complete meltdown” before hanging up. The officer who made the call said they believed Ms Smithson herself had answered the phone after hearing an earlier voicemail message she had left.
The hearing continued in her absence.
As well as the evidence from the USB stick, the panel heard from a matron who works on the hospital’s acute floor and Claire Martin, the trust’s head of nursing, midwifery and education.
It also heard evidence from interviews with Miss Smithson and the colleague. In his investigation meeting, the colleague admitted to ‘messing around’ on the ward with Miss Smithson when there were no patients around. He also said he had taken the keys to the drugs cupboard from Miss Smithson as a prank.
In a letter dated 8 August 2016, the day she left the Royal Sussex, Miss Smithson said: “On the question of being complicit in the actions of [my colleague], I do not deny knowing that he had stolen drugs… …I have a very misguided sense of loyalty towards [him] that stopped me from reporting his activities because I knew he would lose his job.
“I chose to ignore or not really ask where and how he was getting drugs from because I convinced myself that if I didn’t know I wouldn’t be obliged to act on what I knew.”
However, the panel also saw messages between the pair in which Miss Smithson said they should “meet and discuss strategy for if we are rumbled We
might get sacked you know.”
She added: “I am gonna say it was you, I have to, it be my pin, you don’t have a pin [NMC registration number] … you are going to have to lie and say it was all you.”
In its ruling the panel said: “Miss Smithson, at the time the charges arose, had been a Registered Nurse for 32 years and would have been a nurse that her colleagues relied on.
“Her inappropriate behaviour in taking Entonox and recording inappropriate video footage whilst on duty, would have left colleagues and patients without support on a busy department. Miss Smithson’s actions in this respect placed patients at risk of harm.”
It added: “Miss Smithson failed to demonstrate a full understanding of the impact of her inappropriate behaviour and associated dishonesty on patients, colleagues or the wider public.
“In conclusion, the panel was not confident that should Miss Smithson find herself in similar circumstances in the future, she would not act in a similar way.”
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