Medical practitioners in NSW owe their patients a duty of care, which means they have a moral and legal obligation to ensure the wellbeing of their wards. Breaching this duty can result in medical negligence claims and significant payouts for those affected.
For example, despite the excellent work that many within the industry do every day, nursing negligence is a common issue. One case that went before the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal recently saw a nurse accused of serious professional misconduct, an allegation which could potentially lead to a claim.
The nurse was facing the tribunal on three complaints: unnecessarily attending to a Patient Controlled Analgesia (PCA) device, which releases morphine; obtaining ward keys to the PCA; and having a drug abuse disorder.
While this was not a medical negligence claim, cases such as this can result in compensation if a nurse’s actions breach their duty of care and result in injury to the patient.
What professional misconduct allegedly occurred?
The Health Care Complaints Commission believed the nurse was guilty of serious professional misconduct after accusing him of swapping out a patient’s morphine drip for a harmless substitute, possibly saline.
According to court documents, the patient was hospitalised due to a workplace accident in which his pelvis got crushed between two forklift trucks.
The nurse, who had previous warnings for Schedule 8 medication breaches and failed drug tests, was allegedly seen by the patient tampering with the PCA and replacing his morphine with fluid from another syringe. It was suggested that the nurse had taken the morphine for personal use.
Due to his previous breaches of hospital policy, the respondent was not allowed to possess ward keys that could be used to access drugs or open PCAs.
What did the tribunal decide?
The nurse claimed he opened the PCA because an alarm was sounding on the device. He said the machine indicated air had been detected in the maintenance line that supplies saline to the patient, and he removed air bubbles using a syringe.
He denied any wrongdoing, but admitted he should have explained the procedure more thoroughly to the patient.
The tribunal dismissed the first two complaints against the nurse, citing the patient’s inconsistent statements throughout the case and a lack of proof that the respondent had done anything untoward.
However, the nurse was found to have an impairment that could affect his ability to practise medicine, namely a substance abuse problem indicated by failed drug tests. The tribunal therefore imposed a number of conditions on the respondent in order for him to continue nursing in the future.
In this particular case, no obvious injury came to the patient and so a medical negligence claim would be difficult to prove. Nevertheless, incidents such as this show how a duty of care can be breached.
If you would like to know more about medical negligence claims, contact an experienced compensation lawyer.