The NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal has ruled that two nurses were guilty of professional misconduct in relation to a patient's death in 2013.
When a medical practitioner's behaviour falls below the expected standards of the profession, they may be deemed negligent. This can result in significant payouts for damages if their actions lead to a patient's injury or death.
In this case, the Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) highlighted a series of instances of misconduct involving patient observations.
One patient, who was diagnosed with a schizophrenic disorder and required 15-minute checks, died during the nurses' shift.
The HCCC claimed the nurses failed to monitor patients in line with hospital policy and completed charts in a misleading manner to cover up missed observations.
Nurse A was the nurse-in-charge of the shift where the misconduct occurred, while Nurse B was a clinical nurse specialist tasked with performing the majority of patient observations.
On the day in question, a patient was found unresponsive in her room and rigor mortis had set in. Resuscitation efforts were unsuccessful and she was declared dead soon afterwards.
The HCCC argued that the nurses did not perform adequate checks on the patient during the night. Despite requiring observations every 15 minutes, the patient was monitored at intervals of between 23 and 83 minutes.
Both nurses also retroactively filled in patient charts to suggest they had conducted observations when in fact they had not done so. CCTV footage confirmed the nurses had not performed the checks.
The tribunal ruled that both nurses were guilty of professional misconduct. Nurse A was reprimanded and conditions placed on his registration and Nurse B was suspended for four months.
According to the tribunal, Nurse B's punishment was more severe due to the fact he was directly responsible for monitoring the patient throughout the shift, which he failed to do.
But would the nurses' misconduct have constituted medical negligence? And would the deceased patient's family been successful in claiming for damages for the loved one's death?
Medical negligence claims require the plaintiff to prove that a professional failed in their duty of care and that this breach resulted in injury or death to the patient.
While the nurses' behaviour can be considered negligent, a coroner's report showed the patient died of natural causes, with the nurses' lack of observation unlikely to have contributed to the death.
This could make it difficult for plaintiffs in similar circumstances to prove causation. However, every case is unique, so contact an experienced personal injury law firm to discuss whether or not you are eligible to pursue damages.