Nurses face negligence claims after death of a young patient

Date: Apr 17, 2019

A report from the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) has highlighted the rising rates of mental health issues among young Australians. Of the results, youth suicide was one of the main causes for concern, with Australia ranked 23rd out of 37 countries analysed. 

This distressing topic was at the centre of a recent medical negligence claim brought before the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal by the Health Care Commission Centre (HCCC), after a young patient killed herself whilst in the care of medical professionals.

Background of the patient

At the time of the incident, the young woman was 18 years of age. The court found she had a history of severe mental health issues and had attempted to take her life multiple times before.

The victim was registered as a patient at the Mater Mental Health Centre in Newcastle. On the evening before her death, she was placed in the Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) on the basis that she was a high suicide risk. This assessment was made by one of the psychiatric registrars who was informed that the patient had made an attempt to hang herself whilst residing at the hospital.

Events leading up to her death

As part of their duties, all nurses who were responsible for observing and caring for patients in the PICU were instructed to sight all individuals in the ward at intervals of no more than 15 minutes.
Despite being under close observations, the young patient was able to construct a noose from a bedsheet and hang herself from her bedroom door. This is believed to have occurred sometime between 6:30 a.m and 7:25 a.m and took place in full view of the nurses' station, which was approximately 10 metres away.

What did the HCCC submit?

The HCCC (the applicant) brought proceedings against four of the nurses who cared for the patient over this time period. It alleged unsatisfactory professional conduct and a failure to properly observe a high-risk patient.

How did the tribunal respond?

The tribunal analysed what constituted an observation in a mental health hospital setting. While the nurses claimed 'sightings' of the patient every 15 minutes was sufficient to meet minimum requirements, the tribunal backed the HCCC in that such sightings should have been qualitative as well as quantitative. As a result, the tribunal found that all four nurses had failed in their professional duties. All defendants were ordered to provide written submissions before the court made appropriate orders.

Medical negligence can have disastrous effects, whether physical or psychological. If you believe yourself or a loved one has been treated poorly at the hands of professionals, get in touch with the medical negligence lawyers at Gerard Malouf & Partners today.

Call us now on 1800 004 878 to book a free appointment with one of my compensation experts, or email your enquiry.