The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), which regulates nurses’ conduct, surely anticipated a backlash over its ruling, fully eight years after the event, that nurse Mr Nyamukapa had ‘no case to answer’ having broken the jaw of a young man in his charge, and knocked out two of his teeth with a punch.
At the time, Mr Nyamukapa was a nurse at Winterbourne View. Ben, a gentleman whom we now support, was his patient.
The NMC decision reflected that of the police, which brought no charges over the incident – but the two organisations have fundamentally different purposes and reasons to act.
The ruling was made on the basis that Mr Nyamukapa was acting instinctively and in self-defense, with Ben, a man with severe autism and learning disabilities, and a history of challenging behaviour, biting his fingers at the time.
So those are the bare facts as presented to the NMC. But who dug deeper? Who asked why Ben bit Mr Nyamukapa’s finger in the first place if that was indeed the sequence of events?
The abuse at Winterbourne was widespread, and continuous. Though no-one could prove the bite itself was self-defense, we do know that Winterbourne management was skilled in cover-ups. Was that why the punch was recorded as Ben having ‘an accident with his teeth.’?
Now, people in my organisation know Ben rather well. We know him as a gentle, fun-loving young man who is gradually repairing his life following the abuse he suffered at Winterbourne and, incredibly, also at the vile Veilstone care home which was shut down in 2012.
Ben now lives in his own home, near his family. He’s planning a holiday. He has an autism specialist dog called Woody. He has use of a car. He’s involved in his local community.
After all he has suffered, he is learning to trust people again. And his challenging behaviour has all but disappeared. All of which brings me to my point:
Ben and the other people being ‘cared for’ and ‘treated’ were not the problem at Winterbourne.
They were subjected to a grim culture and were the victims of institutional abuse.
They were vulnerable people in a system that was designed to seclude and silence them, people who generated massive amounts of cash for investors.
But Ben was also the victim of a punch that broke his teeth and his jaw, from an individual who was specially trained and informed of Ben’s needs. Those needs were not met.
It is right and proper that Winterbourne View, and parent company Castlebeck, suffered the consequences they did following Panorama.
I’m struggling to persuade myself that the police were right to not bring criminal charges over this specific incident.
But for the Nursing and Midwifery Council to conclude that Mr Nyamukapa is fit to continue to practice, is simply unbelievable and obscene.
Mr Nyamukapa was trained to care, and with that professional qualification comes responsibility – and surely accountability?
Yet he chose instead to become part of and stay in a system that abused dozens of vulnerable people including Ben.
If any of us had been subjected to the sort of abuse we saw in the Panorama programme I think many of us may well have behaved in such a way that we would be labelled challenging.
My proposition is that the NMC had an absolute obligation to withdraw Mr Nyamukapa’s licence to practice.
Now, I know I wasn’t there on the day it happened and I didn’t witness the punch – so therefore I don’t have all the facts.
But does that make my proposition unreasonable? You be the judge.
But – and it is big but – by choosing not to comment and not to explain the rationale for their decision I believe the NMC are not protecting the public – which is after all why they exist.
Their decision and the lack of transparency around it suggests to me other professionals who punch vulnerable people will simply feel protected by the system and so be free to abuse more vulnerable people in future.
Looking at the NMC website their purpose is “We exist to protect the public. We set standards of education, training, conduct and performance so that nurses and midwives can deliver high quality healthcare throughout their careers.”
Furthermore they go on to state they “…have clear and transparent processes to investigate nurses and midwives who fall short of our standards.”