Stephen Hawking’s nurse struck off over his care

by NCN Health And Science Team Posted on March 13th, 2019

Professor Stephen Hawking’s nurse has been struck off for failures over his care and financial misconduct. Patricia Dowdy, 61, who worked for the renowned scientist for 15 years, was handed an interim suspension in 2016, it emerged at the weekend.

The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) has now found she did not “provide the standards of good, professional care we expect and Professor Hawking deserved”.

Mrs Dowdy told reporters on Sunday she was upset and did not want to comment.

The NMC made its decision to remove Mrs Dowdy, from Ipswich, from the nursing register at a private hearing in London.

A fitness to practise panel said Mrs Dowdy’s behaviour amounted to financial misconduct, dishonesty, not providing appropriate care, failing to cooperate with the NMC and not having the correct qualifications.

Matthew McClelland, director of fitness to practise, said: “As the public rightly expects, in serious cases such as this – where a nurse has failed in their duty of care and has not been able to give evidence to the panel that they have learned from their mistakes and be fit to practise – we will take action.

“We have remained in close contact with the Hawking family throughout this case and I am grateful to them – as they approach the anniversary of Professor Hawking’s death – and others for sharing their concerns with us.

A family spokesman said Prof Hawking’s family was “relieved this traumatic ordeal has now concluded and that as a result of the verdict, others will not have to go through what they suffered from this individual”.

“They want to thank the NMC for their thorough investigation,” he added.

Prof Hawking died at his home in Cambridge in March last year aged 76 having lived with motor neurone disease for more than 50 years. Motor neurone disease (MND) describes a group of diseases that affect the nerves (motor neurones) in the brain and spinal cord that tell your muscles what to do. With MND, messages from these nerves gradually stop reaching the muscles, leading them to weaken, stiffen and waste.

MND can affect how you walk, talk, eat, drink and breathe. Some people also experience changes to their thinking and behaviour. However, MND affects everyone differently. Not all symptoms will affect everyone, or in the same order. Symptoms also progress at varying speeds, which makes the course of the disease difficult to predict.

MND is life-shortening and there is no cure. Although the disease will progress, symptoms can be managed to help achieve the best possible quality of life.

There is a 1 in 300 risk of getting MND across a lifetime. It can affect adults of any age, but is more likely to affect people over 50.

MND affects up to 5,000 adults in the UK at any one time. As this is not a common disease, general health and social care professionals may not see many cases of MND. This means it is important to seek out specialists who have appropriate experience in its treatment and care – usually with referral to neurological services.

If your GP thinks you have a condition affecting the nerves or brain (a neurological problem), you will be referred to a neurologist. There is no single test to work out if you have MND, but a range of tests can help rule out other causes. You usually attend these tests as an outpatient, but in some cases you may be required to spend a short stay in hospital.

Depending on your symptoms, your neurologist may advise the following, or other tests if useful:

Clinical examination: helps the neurologist recognise signs and work out which tests are appropriate, depending on your symptoms.

Blood tests: look for a rise in a substance called creatine kinase. This is produced when muscle breaks down. It is sometimes found in the blood of people with MND, but may indicate other conditions.

Electromyography (EMG): is sometimes called the needle test, as fine needles record the natural nerve impulses within certain muscles. When muscles start to lose their nerve supply, this can be detected, even if the muscle activity still seems normal.

Nerve conduction tests: apply an electrical impulse through a small pad on the skin. This measures the speed at which nerves carry electrical signals.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS): measures the activity of the upper motor neurones to help diagnosis.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): scans involve being placed in a cylinder-like machine. The machine takes internal images of the body. These help rule out conditions such as stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, tumours and trapped nerves, as well as injury to spine and brain.

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