THE TALE of Erin Brockovich’s fight against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company of California was turned into a Hollywood movie starring Julia Roberts.
Brixham nurse Vasanta Suddock’s story of how she battled to clear her name following a series of false allegations against her would make an equally thrilling tale.
Ms Suddock (pictured), 48, won a four-and-a-half-year battle to clear her name after blowing the whistle on a Torquay nursing home.
In a ‘David and Goliath’ court case, 48-year-old Vasanta represented herself in the High Court and won her appeal against the Nursing and Midwifery Council.
Ms Suddock faced being struck off in July after charges of professional misconduct were found proved.
But she successfully appealed and the NMC panel’s decision to strike Ms Suddock off was thrown out.
She believes she is the first person to take on the NMC without proper legal representation and win.
Her story began in August 2011 when the Warberries Nursing Home where she was matron went into administration. She had worked there for 16 years.
Administrators Ernst and Young, took over the running of the home and appointed Health Care Management Solution (HMCS) consultants. The home was bought by Margaret Rose Care Limited in November 2011 — the company never had any dealings with Ms Suddock.
The administrators had halted maintenance work being undertaken under the recommendation of the Care Quality Commission, which concerned Ms Suddock who sent an email to the administrators. She was told the maintenance would continue, but it did not.
She decided to whistleblow to the Local Care Trust. On August 17, she emailed the regional manager of HMCS with additional concerns. Four hours later, she was suspended and subject to allegations of bullying and harassment.
After she was suspended, concerns grew about care at the home, which led to the Local Care Trust and family members removing patients.
After Ms Suddock was dismissed she immediately went to the Employment Tribunal on the grounds that she was being victimised as a whistleblower.
The Employment Tribunal confirmed that she was unfairly dismissed. The judgement said ‘the overwhelming majority of the workforce had a very high regard for the claimant — earned over many years’. She was also cleared by the Independent Safeguarding Authority and by Devon and Cornwall police.
The NMC took four years to investigate allegations including bullying against Ms Suddock before holding a hearing in 2015. On July 29, a number of the allegations against her were upheld by the NMC, who provisionally struck her off.
However, Ms Suddock appealed and working on her own and piling up a huge amount of evidence, she stuck to her belief in the truth that she knew she was innocent and that she was being framed.
Ms Suddock had alleged there was a serious deterioration in the level of care at the home. This, according to her, was because it was being run as a residential care home, not a nursing home, without regard to the complex nature of the patients.
She also alleged that following her suspension and dismissal, two other carers made up additional allegations against her because she had challenged them on the poor level of care they were providing.
Ms Suddock had taken the home to task for failing to provide appropriate care — and it was this that led her to believe that false accusations of bullying were made against her.
Having initially been struck off by the NMC, who believed that allegations that had been made against her, Ms Suddock spent months compiling papers, making sure that she knew the law, and preparing for her appeal.
On November 26 2015, she, on her own, went to the High Court in London and took on the NMC. She represented herself. The NMC had two lawyers present. Ms Suddock won.
Mrs Justice Geraldine Andrews DBE quashed all of the most serious charges against her and lifted her striking off order, ruling that the decision of the panel had been made against the weight of evidence, ignored contemporaneous documentary evidence, or were based on evidence that was demonstrably unreliable and/or untruthful.
Justice Andrews said: “It is that the panel failed to appreciate that there is evidence that strongly supports Ms Suddock’s assertion that someone, acting in bad faith, has set out to ruin her hitherto unquestioned professional reputation and her career. I have regrettably concluded that the panel’s approach to the question of credibility and reliability is so undermined in consequence that I cannot, in fairness, allow its adverse findings to stand.
“This was not a case in which Ms Suddock was raising a wholly fanciful conspiracy theory. On the contrary, there may have been a motive for HCMS to encourage the making of such allegations or the exaggeration of the conduct alleged. Alternatively, there may have been a reason for members of staff bearing a grudge against Ms Suddock to seize the opportunity of getting their own back by saying nasty things about her once she was out of the way to an interim ’employer’ who was only too eager to hear them,
“The more I examined the evidence, the more it became apparent that there was genuine cause for concern and Ms Suddock’s feeling that she had not been fairly dealt with became understandable.
“There is the clearest possible evidence, which the panel brushed aside, that someone was making a crude attempt to frame her. When one adds into the equation the attempt to frame Ms Suddock, it becomes obvious that justice dictates that none of the adverse decisions under challenge on this appeal that depended on assessments of credibility should be allowed to stand.
“The findings against Ms Suddock are not supported by the evidence. Not to put too fine a point on it, it is perverse.”
Speaking after her name was cleared, Ms Suddock said for the last four and half years life has been a nightmare for her.
She said: “This has affected my whole life. Life has been a nightmare for me and I have not been able to go out in public.
“I have had lots of support from friends and family and I have managed to keep my house, but it has been a struggle as I have been treated unfairly for the last four and a half years.
“I have had to represent myself all the way through the employment tribunal, the NMC tribunal and at the High Court in London because I couldn’t afford lawyers.
“The judge said it was a unique case and did not normally interfere with charges made by the lower courts of the NMC/ CCC because I had been subject to such horrendous treatment. That was why she quashed those very serious allegations.”