NEWS HR

The new chief executive of the Nursing and Midwifery Council has said she wants the regulator to highlight more of the systemic failings which underpin concerns about individual nurses.

A nurse who worked for Stephen Hawking for 15 years has been suspended in a secret tribunal over allegations of ‘serious’ misconduct concerning his care. The scientist’s immediate family had lodged a complaint which prompted a long investigation into 61-year-old Patricia Dowdy. But details of the case, and the nature of the disciplinary charges against Mrs Dowdy, have been suppressed by the body which regulates nursing. The public and the media have been banned from the hearing in a move that will prompt renewed concerns about a shift towards ‘secret justice’. Because of the severity of the allegations against her, which have never been made public, Mrs Dowdy was suspended by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) when the claims came to light. The ‘substantive’ hearing that will ultimately decide her fate is now ongoing – but is being held behind closed doors. And it is likely that the charges will never be publicly disclosed. It is understood that the nurse, from Ipswich, Suffolk, stopped working for Hawking at least two years before he succumbed to motor neurone disease in March last year, aged 76. When a reporter turned up at the NMC in Stratford, East London, he was denied entry and told that Mrs Dowdy’s ‘fitness-to-practise’ hearing, due to end later this month, was private. Later, the NMC said a secrecy order was granted because of Mrs Dowdy’s ‘health’, but declined to elaborate further. Asked about the allegations at her home yesterday, Mrs Dowdy said: ‘This is all very upsetting. Can I just say “no comment” at the moment? I’m not supposed to talk to anyone.’ A source with knowledge of the case said the charges against the nurse were ‘pretty serious’ but declined to discuss the matter further. In 2004, ten nurses who had cared for Hawking accused his second wife, Elaine Mason, of abusing him. It is not known if Mrs Dowdy was among those who made statements to police or if that case is connected to the ongoing hearing. At the time it emerged that the author of A Brief History Of Time was repeatedly taken to hospital with unexplained injuries, such as a broken wrist, gashes to the face and a cut lip, that left his family concerned for his safety. Both he and Mrs Mason denied the allegations and police took no action. Last night, MPs and campaigners reacted with dismay to the decision to hold disciplinary hearings in secret. Independent MP John Woodcock, who helped his constituents fight for NMC hearings into midwives implicated in the needless deaths of babies at Furness General Hospital in Cumbria, warned the secrecy could increase the risk of a further tragedy. He said: ‘It is deeply concerning that the NMC is seeking to reduce transparency.’ And open justice campaigner John Hemming added: ‘Justice in the dark is never proper justice. If you want people to have confidence in the regulator, then justice needs to be done – and seen to be done.’ Prof Hawking had been confined to a wheelchair since the age of 30 and was attended to by a rota of private nurses and carers paid for by Cambridge University, where he was a mathematics professor.

A former chief executive of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) has been appointed chair of the region’s housing association trade body. John McPeake will step up to head the board at the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations (NIFHA). He replaces incumbent chair Alan Shannon with immediate effect. Dr McPeake is an urban planner by background and joined the NIHE in 1982, remaining with the housing authority until his retirement in 2014.

The long-standing chief executive of a Greater Manchester trust has announced his intention to retire 12 years in the post. Andrew Foster, chief executive of Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh Foundation Trust, has said he intends to step down in October.

Sunderland-based housing association Gentoo Group has appointed two new members to its board. Alison Fellows and Emily Cox were invited to join the Board at its meeting in February and will take up their new posts immediately.

Scott Beat, a regulation manager at Barchester Healthcare, has joined the Board of the care provider’s charitable foundation.

NHS Improvement and the Department of Health and Social Care have appointed a national medical examiner to oversee the introduction of the new death review service.

A pensioner has been charged with stalking a retirement housing association employee over the course of a three year period. Robert Entwistle is alleged to have engaged in a course of conduct likely to cause the woman fear and alarm by sending her numerous unwanted communications via letters and online at Greenlaw and in Duns between January 1, 2016, and January 1, 2019. The 69-year-old of Priorwood Court, Melrose, pleaded not guilty at Jedburgh Sheriff Court to the stalking charge. A trial has been fixed for May 16 with an intermediate hearing on April 29.