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The nurse, who admitted the charges against her, successfully applied for anonymity at the outset of the case, on the basis that the shock factor of the removal of the animals' heads could greatly upset members of the public and veterinary staff, leading to a backlash which would present a threat to her safety.
The Disciplinary Committee heard that the nurse, who was working as a locum, asked a permanent member of staff if she could take a couple of skulls from the strays, because she had a friend who 'cleaned up' dead strays and wildlife and displayed the skulls at home.
The College’s case was that the nurse’s actions amounted to serious professional misconduct because she failed to afford the dead animals with the respect and dignity they deserved, there was a risk to human health because she failed to comply with biosecurity measures, and her actions had the potential to undermine public confidence in the profession.
Although she admitted that her conduct fell short of what was expected, the nurse countered that her actions were not intended to be disrespectful to the animals, that she was an animal-lover who had three cats of her own, and that her actions were not malicious but misjudged.
Weighing up the case, the Committee found that the aggravating features of her conduct were around biosecurity and abuse of her professional position, while in mitigation it found that there was no financial gain in her actions and that it was a one-off incident.
Kathryn Peaty, chairing the Committee and speaking on its behalf, said: “The respondent’s conduct represented a biosecurity risk.
"Any body part would be in some degree of decomposition.
"As the cats were strays, it was unclear as to whether or not they had been in good health.
"Although the respondent transferred the body parts to her home and kept them in the freezer in cadaver bags, there was a risk that they could leak.
"In short, her actions were not without risk to human or animal health.
“The respondent abused her professional position.
"She had an obligation to treat the cadavers with respect.
"Her professional position gave her access to the cadavers.
"She abused her professional position by severing the cats’ heads and, using a scalpel, body bags and other equipment she pursued an interest of her own, rather than performed the role she was employed to undertake.
"Although she may say that she obtained permission to remove the cats’ heads from a permanent member of staff, she was a Registered Veterinary Nurse and therefore an autonomous professional.
"Whatever permissions she received should not have made her believe she had a licence to act as she did.”
Considering the appropriate sanction, the Committee took into account her relative youth and inexperience, the fact she made open and frank admissions at an early stage, the fact she made efforts to avoid a repetition of the behaviours, the insight she had shown into why her conduct was wrong, and the amount of time that had passed since her conduct relative to the total length of her four-year veterinary nursing career.
The Committee also considered positive character references from fellow veterinary nurses with whom she worked and trained.
Kathryn added: “The Committee considered that a reprimand was the sanction it should impose.
"A reprimand marks the Committee’s view of the respondent’s behaviour, thereby satisfying the public interest.
“The Committee did consider issuing a warning as to future conduct, but it had no concerns that the respondent would fail to follow the Code of Professional Conduct for Veterinary Nurses in the future.
"It therefore rejected a warning as an appropriate alternative.”
The full findings of the Disciplinary Committee can be found at www.rcvs.org.uk/disciplinary
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