The High Court has suspended a nurse who is alleged to have slapped a nursing home resident in the face, hit her on the knee, and threw a slipper at her.
President of the High Court, Mr Justice Mary Irvine, ruled the suspension was proportionate because the alleged conduct was sufficiently serious even when taking into account the adverse consequences it will have for the nurse. She has since lost her job in the nursing home.
She granted an application by the Nursing and Midwifery Board for the suspension of her registration arising out of the incident on the night of April 21 last, The nurse has since appealed a finding by the board that on the balance of probabilities she carried out the assaults.
In the meantime, the board applied to the High Court seeking confirmation of its decision to suspend her.
The nurse opposed the application arguing, among other things, that CCTV evidence, which the board did not view when it made its suspension decision, supported her version of events.
She said in relation to the alleged knee slapping the video showed she was following procedure by grabbing, rather than slapping, the knee of the resident and in so doing was performing a trained manoeuvre to put the resident’s leg back on the footstool of the wheelchair.
She contended the video also showed her throwing the slipper in the direction of the resident and that it struck the wheelchair as opposed to the resident herself.
She argued she held the slipper for 21 seconds before throwing it, demonstrating that she did not throw it in retaliation in the heat of the moment.
She submitted there were inconsistencies in the evidence given by the other staff on duty that night and the CCTV identified discrepancies in their evidence such that it should be regarded as unreliable.
In relation to the alleged slap in the face, she said one of the two nurses who was present in the resident’s room at the time did not mention that incident in her written statement and only did so in the course of a later interview.
This omission, she said, went to the reliability of (the other nurse's) evidence and the strength of the case against her.
She further argued that evidence before the board was tainted by the fact that the person investigating the incident for the employer had had strained relations with the nurse as a result of an incident that had occurred some days prior to these events.
She also said this was an emergency situation where staff were forced to deal with a very aggressive resident who constituted a risk to other residents.
Granting the suspension order, Ms Justice Irvine was satisfied the board had demonstrated that it had clear and convincing evidence upon which it was entitled to take the view that there existed a strong prima facie case when it applied to the court for the suspension.
She was not satisfied the nurse identified any significant flaws or patent weakness in the evidence which was before the board.
She said the board had before it the evidence of one witness who said the nurse delivered a hard and audible slap to the resident’s knee.
The judge said it was "very disconcerting" the nurse made the argument she did about throwing the slipper "being apparently convinced that it would be acceptable behaviour" to throw a slipper with force at the resident.
In relation to the alleged face slapping, the nurse accepted that her hand hit the resident’s face in a physical exchange which occurred after the resident had been returned to her bedroom. The only question that a Fitness to Practice Committee, which will hear her case, will have to resolve at a later date is whether that was deliberate or accidental.
The board also had the evidence of the witness who heard an audible slap on her knee that the nurse struck the resident “really hard” on the side of her face/ear, she said.