OT suspended following drink driving conviction

HCPC suspends OT for six months following a drink driving conviction

Published on 4th April 2018

An occupational therapist, convicted of drink driving, has been suspended from the HCPC register for six months.

Nicola Hemple was convicted of driving a vehicle after consuming so much alcohol that the proportion of it in her blood was not less than 180 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood which exceeded the prescribed limit at the Crawley Magistrates’ Court on 5 January 2017.

Miss Hemple also drove a mechanically propelled vehicle on a road without due care and attention contrary to section 3 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 and Schedule 2 to the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 in the incident which was on 25 September 2016.

Actual harm was sustained by another road user as a result of her offence: damage was caused to the other vehicle, the driver of which sustained a broken wrist. 

Miss Hemple initially failed to recognise, in her police interview, how far over the legal limit she was and gave conflicting accounts of her conduct and alcohol consumption to the police.  Furthermore, a police dog and a police helicopter had to be deployed to secure her arrest, when she left the scene of the road traffic accident.  She was abusive and resistant to the police at the scene and in the police station.

She referred herself to the Health and Care Professions Council in October 2016 and pleaded guilty to the offences at Crawley Magistrates’ Court in January 2017. Miss Hemple was sentenced to a Community Order for 12 months with a requirement to undertake 40 hours unpaid work.  She was also fined £120 and ordered to pay costs of £85 and a Victim Surcharge of £85. 

Miss Hemple was disqualified from driving for 20 months and offered the opportunity to attend an approved course, which, if completed by 17 February 2018, would reduce her disqualification by 20 weeks.

Miss Hemple has a previous criminal conviction for failing to provide a specimen of breath for analysis (being in charge of a motor vehicle), contrary to Section 7(6) Road Traffic Act 1988 on 14 September 2013. However, she explained the circumstances surrounding the offence in 2013. She submitted that she had not been drink driving on that occasion and had called the police herself as she had been the victim of an assault.  Thereafter she had bought alcohol to calm herself whilst waiting in her vehicle and been arrested herself.

She submitted that she felt indignant at the arrest and conviction but recognised that she could have handled the incident better.  She did recognise that it was an offence to be in charge of a motor vehicle whilst under the influence of alcohol and that she had bought alcohol on impulse after being assaulted.  She later struggled to provide a specimen of breath for analysis at the police station.

Miss Hemple accepted responsibility for the offences which form the basis of this Allegation. She provided details of personal, professional and health difficulties which led to the incident.  She accessed alcohol services following the latest incident but did not consider it was the right service for her having discussed it with her family, and has since given up drinking alcohol completely.

Although she completed the Community Order in a timely fashion, she has not attended the Drink Drive Rehabilitation Scheme which was offered by the criminal court as she could not afford to attend. She is therefore subject to a driving disqualification until September 2018. She has not practised as an OT for eighteen months. She has now settled in Lincoln, close to her parents and other family members and has been working in the local community in a caring role since July 2017 which has reduced the stressors which led to the incident. 

Miss Hemple expressed regret for the incident, however, she provided no documentary evidence in support of her submissions although she did provide a number of personal and professional references which were positive.

“The Registrant made a conscious decision to drive, in the knowledge that she was likely to be over the legal limit.  There were no emergency circumstances motivating her decision; the Registrant therefore demonstrated a worrying lack of judgement,” said the Panel. “Whilst the punishment imposed in the criminal court reflected many of these factors, the Panel noted that it may not have addressed the considerations which a regulator must take into account, namely that the public has a right to expect a consistently high standard of conduct from a regulated professional.”

“Given her behaviour in driving over the legal limit and in her conduct following the collision with another vehicle, the Panel was satisfied that she had damaged public trust and confidence in the reputation of her profession,” the Panel added.

The Panel noted there was a degree of minimisation on the part of Miss Hemple in respect of her own culpability when she was giving oral evidence. She appeared not to recognise the seriousness of the situation and the wider consequences of her offending behaviour.  She focussed on the personal consequences to herself and gave limited reflections on the impact and risks to others.  Nevertheless, the Panel considered that she had expressed genuine remorse for her actions and had started to develop insight but that this was still in the early stages and was not yet complete.

The Panel noted that the potential to attend therapy sessions is part of her planned remediation but these had not yet started more than 12 months after the case was concluded in the criminal courts.  The Panel was also concerned as to whether the support structures Miss Hemple currently had in place to prevent a repetition of the offending behaviour were sufficiently robust should she face a period of personal stress in the future. In all of these circumstances, and in light of the incomplete insight and remediation, the Panel could not rule out a risk of repetition of the failings in the future.  Accordingly the Panel found that Miss Hemple’s fitness to practise is currently impaired on a personal level.

The Panel was satisfied that there had been a serious breach of the standards of conduct expected of a registered OT which caused a risk of harm to the public and actual harm to an individual. The reputation of the profession was also damaged. The Panel was encouraged by Miss Hemple’s continued and positive engagement in the regulatory process. However, she has not demonstrated that her insight and remediation are complete. She therefore continues to present a risk to the public. Nevertheless, the Panel recognised that failings such as the ones identified in this case can be remedied.

Miss Hemple was an experienced OT at the relevant time and there was no suggestion that there were any issues with her clinical practice. The Panel noted that she wishes to return to practice in the future. In light of this, a Suspension Order, which recognises that there is potential for a return to unrestricted practice at a future point, would be sufficient to protect the public and uphold the wider public interest.

The Panel imposed a six month Suspension Order for to give her the opportunity to reflect upon and satisfactorily address the issues raised by the Panel.

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