A senior registered nurse who was fired for failing to follow procedural guidelines has been unable to convince the Industrial Relations Commission that she was unfairly dismissed.
The woman was accused of negligence in her duty of care when an absconded patient was found dead in a toilet, several hours after first being reported missing.
The nurse took over the night shift at approximately 9:30pm on May 11 2016. During the shift handover, she was informed that a patient had been missing since 5.30pm and security were investigating. She also believed that hospital management were aware of the situation.
However, upon calling the after-hours manager at 11:30pm, the nurse discovered her superiors hadn't been told a patient was missing.
Approximately one hour later, the nurse and a colleague found the patient in a nearby toilet.
Why was the nurse negligent?
The nurse was accused of failing to follow the hospital's missing persons protocol, which outlines the steps employees should follow when patients disappear.
Nurses are expected to search the ward, contact senior managers, keep the patient's family informed and eventually call the police. When the nurse took over the night shift at 9:30pm, the patient had already been missing for four hours.
After an investigation, the hospital ruled that the nurse did not immediately search for the patient and failed to escalate the issue in accordance with established policies.
The nurse also falsely filled out documentation saying that she had observed and spoken to the patient, despite the individual being missing at the time.
She was therefore dismissed for nursing negligence, and two further nurses working on the evening shift during the time the patient went missing were also fired.
Nurse applies for reinstatement
The nurse's legal team argued that her errors did not justify summary dismissal, given her unblemished record prior to the incident and her lack of training on the hospital's absconding patients protocol. She also claimed to have signed the patient chart forms by mistake in the heat of the moment.
To determine whether a dismissal was wrong, the applicant must show they were treated:
- Harshly: the punishment exceeded the crime;
- Unjustly: the employee did not commit the crime for which they are being punished; or
- Unreasonably: the employer drew inferences that weren't contained within evidential materials available to them.
However, Commissioner John Stanton ruled that none of these were applicable. He said the nurse's conduct fell well below expected standards and the punishment was proportionate and reasonable.
Cases such as this often lead to medical negligence claims, with the patient's family able to pursue compensation through the civil courts for duty of care breaches that occurred.
If you would like to discuss nursing negligence, please contact a member of our team at Gerard Malouf & Partners Compensation, Medical Negligence & Will Dispute Lawyers today.