Ms Buttler was charged with having been under the influence of alcohol whilst at work on two separate occasions. At the relevant times, Ms Buttler was working as a locum veterinary nurse. The first occasion was between 25 and 28 April 2016 in Frome, and the second from 3 July to 4 July 2016 in Salisbury. It was also alleged that a prior conviction of drunk driving on 19 November 2013 rendered her unfit to practise as a veterinary nurse.
The Committee decided to continue with the case in Ms Buttler’s absence as it was satisfied that she had properly been served with the notice of hearing and because she had stated that she was aware of the proceedings but did not wish to engage with the process. The Committee also noted that she had not requested any adjournment.
The Committee heard from five witnesses for the first charge, including three veterinary nurses and one veterinary surgeon. They gave testimony that they had had cause to suspect that Ms Buttler was under the influence of alcohol whilst at work due to her demeanour, and recalled Ms Buttler repeatedly retreating upstairs to her accommodation during the working day. Further, an open wine bottle was found in Ms Buttler’s accommodation and was observed to have been drunk during the course of her shift. The Committee found the first charge proved.
The Committee heard from four witnesses in respect of the second charge. Two of the witnesses stated that they smelt alcohol on Ms Buttler’s breath while she was on duty, with one of them stating that Ms Buttler had slurred speech and a flushed face at the end of a fourteen-hour shift. The other two witnesses also presented evidence to support the assertion that Ms Buttler was under the influence of alcohol whilst at work, while the Committee found that Ms Buttler lacked credibility because she had denied having any alcohol on the premises when originally confronted, but later admitted in an email to the College that she had had an open bottle of wine in her bag. The Committee found the second charge proved.
The Committee then considered the third charge, namely the conviction in 2013. The Committee considered the certificate of conviction obtained from the North East Devon Magistrates Court and was satisfied that Ms Buttler had been convicted of driving with excess alcohol as set out within charge 3.
When considering whether these all amounted to a finding of disgraceful conduct in a professional respect, the Committee was concerned about Ms Buttler showing no insight into her drinking, and the repeated nature of the offences. The Committee also considered that being under the influence of alcohol when working as a veterinary nurse was conduct which fell far short of the standards to be expected of members of the veterinary nursing profession.
It therefore concluded that Ms Buttler was guilty of disgraceful conduct in respect of charges 1 and 2.
The Committee then considered whether Ms Buttler’s conviction (charge 3) rendered her unfit to practise as a veterinary nurse. The Committee concluded that Ms Buttler had not acknowledged the seriousness of her actions in 2013, or learnt any lessons from it. Accordingly, it felt that she continued to pose a risk to animals and the public in the future. The Committee also felt that the conviction undermined the reputation of the veterinary nursing profession because the offence inevitably involved a risk of injury to herself and other road users.
Having found Ms Buttler guilty of misconduct, the Committee went on to consider sanction.
The Committee took into account aggravating factors, including that there was a risk of injury to an animal, the fact that the first two charges involved an element of premeditation, the fact that Ms Buttler was under the influence on more than one shift in each practice, that there is no evidence of insight from Ms Buttler and there is a future risk to animals if she continued to practice unrestricted.
They also considered mitigating factors, including the fact that this is the first disciplinary hearing she has faced, that she did not cause any harm to any animal and that she did not gain financially from her conduct.
In reaching its decision Jane Downes, chairing the Committee and speaking on its behalf, said: “The Committee noted that Ms Buttler said she had worked for twenty years without any problem and that she was previously of good character. However because there was no evidence that Ms Buttler would not repeat the conduct with regards to working whilst under the influence of alcohol she could continue to pose a risk to animals or the public in the future. The Committee therefore was bound to consider her removal from the register.
“Although it noted from the brief email correspondence Ms Buttler had sent to the college that she said she did not intend to practice in the future, the Committee decided that until she had shown insight into her behaviour in 2016, she remained a risk to animals. It therefore decided that the proportionate action was to instruct the Registrar to remove her name from the register of veterinary nurses forthwith.”
If Ms Buttler chose to re-engage with the College, she could apply for restoration to the register after ten months.