Nurse wins case against Council after three years of 'misery'

By Derek Cheng

File photo / Thinkstock
File photo / Thinkstock

A nurse who quit her job after being overheard speaking about whether an elderly woman should be resuscitated has won an end to a formal investigation that has dragged on for nearly three years and caused her "misery".

The nurse, who has permanent name suppression, sought legal costs and an injunction in the Wellington High Court today from the Nursing Council over its investigation, which started in April 2011.

After the morning's session, the Nursing Council agreed to a permanent injunction staying the investigation, and a declaration that its Professional Conduct Committee breached its obligation to observe the rules of natural justice. The parties made an agreement for costs.

The nurse held a senior position in a hospital in the lower North Island region in March 2011. It was a busy day, and she checked the hospital system to see if other hospital personnel might be available to help in her unit.

She saw that a woman aged in her 80s had been admitted to the emergency department, suffering from cardiac arrest. The patient's family wanted to resuscitate her.

The nurse then had a conversation with another nurse in her unit about the ethical dilemma, and stated a personal view that if she were the patient, she would prefer not to be revived.

A student nurse overheard the conversation, took exception, and told her Polytechnic tutor that she found it inappropriate. Two days later the DHB received a complaint, which was passed to the Nursing Council.

The nurse subsequently resigned following a formal disciplinary process. The other nurse in the conversation did not resign, nor did the Nursing Council investigate her.

The nurse's lawyer, Jonathan Coates, said the ongoing delays were against the principles of natural justice and had subjected the nurse to "misery" for "pontificating on ethical issues".

The investigation's two years and eight months -- the investigation was frozen, pending an outcome for this case -- had had a "catastrophic" impact on her health, including episodes of depression and suicidal thoughts. She was now working on a casual basis, but not in her former specialist field, and was earning $25,000 less a year.

A further complaint against the nurse was investigated in July 2012 over inappropriate access to the hospital's patient files, but Mr Coates said this was "completely without foundation" and was never substantiated.

After the settlement, Mr Coates said the whole process "had been a massive ordeal for my client, and she's thrilled with the outcome".

- NZ Herald

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