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Doctor told nun not to wear habit

A Norhtwick Park Hospital consultant ordered a nun working as a mental health volunteer not to wear her habit in case she was killed by a patient, the General Medical Council heard on Monday.

Psychiatrist Dr Helen Bright, 44, claimed the robes could frighten patients, some of whom believed they were Satan or Jesus, and later carried out a crusade against uniforms by conducting an unauthorised "research project", it is alleged.

Dr Bright, who has a practice in Harley Street, was rude and aggressive towards the families of two patients, the GMC heard, and clashed with staff at the hospital in Watford Road, Harrow, swearing at one of them, it is claimed.

Yugoslavian-born Dr Bright was sacked from NPH in December 1999, two months after writing to Sister Bernadette Onwuzuruigbois, inviting her to discuss the wearing of uniforms. The Roman Catholic nun reported the matter to hospital chiefs who asked Dr Bright to justify herself.

Jane Sullivan, for the GMC, said: "Sister Bernadette found these comments upsetting, fearing she was being accused of something.

Dr Bright told the hospital chiefs: "I had asked Sister Bernadette to make an appointment to discuss why those in psychiatry do not wear uniforms. I do not wear a white coat and other nursing staff do not wear uniforms.

"In psychiatry, we have patients who are paranoid, not wearing a uniform helps to gain their trust. Some patients have suffered abuse at the hands of religious institutions and it is important... not to make strong identification to institutions."

Miss Sullivan said that Dr Bright indicated that the nun was at risk of being attacked, or even murdered, because of her habit and feared she too was at risk because she was associated with Sister Bernadette. Dr Bright said she had apologised to Sister Bernadette, but she denied this.

The tribunal heard Dr Bright also behaved unprofessionally by later taking the story to the national press. After being sacked, she hurled abuse at NPH's medical director, Dr Peter Jefferys, when he refused not to mention the incidents in her reference and threatened to sue him for defamation, loss of earnings and damages.

The doctor later worked at the Wolverhampton Healthcare NHS Trust, between May and July 2000. While there, she illegally sectioned seven mental health patients illegally, although she was not qualified to detain them.

Dr Bright admits writing to Sister Bernadette, speaking to the press, and sectioning patients without approval of the Secretary of State. But she denies acting insensitively, irresponsibly and unprofessionally. She also denies her behaviour towards the families of two patients was rude, aggressive, and reckless and acting unprofessionally and aggressively to Dr Jefferys.

The hearing continues.

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