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Three nurses unfairly dismissed, judge rules

By Cornish Guardian  |  Posted: March 12, 2014

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THREE nurses who were sacked after a mentally ill patient was allegedly assaulted at Bodmin Hospital have won a two-year battle to clear their names.

Experienced nurses Sharon Little, Martin Smith and Tim Spear – all from the Bodmin area – were dismissed by the Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust for gross misconduct after a violent patient was forcibly restrained on Harvest Ward.

An employment tribunal judge, who ruled the nurses were unfairly sacked, said it was "extraordinary and unreasonable'' for the trust to believe the evidence of a dangerous and disruptive psychiatric patient instead of the testimony of the nurses.

Judge Nicholas Roper said the decision to sack them for gross misconduct effectively ended the careers of three people who, between them, had 50 years' experience of caring for the mentally ill. Each had a previously unblemished disciplinary record.

The incident happened in February 2012 when a male patient, with a history of violence and aggression, and who was perceived to be a danger to women, was acting violently in the early hours of the morning, and was restrained physically by a staff team which included Mr Smith and Mr Spear, after they had failed to calm him down.

Mr Spear was hit in the face and the patient had attacked Mr Smith with a chair.

The patient's mother later complained that her son had sustained injuries to his ribs and ankle.

Mrs Little was the nurse in charge and, although not physically involved in restraining the patient, authorised the procedure.

An investigation and disciplinary hearing by the foundation trust deemed the patient to have been assaulted, and Mrs Little failed to complete an appropriate report into the assault.

Mrs Little contended that she did not report the assault as she did not believe the patient had been assaulted.

Judge Roper, finding that the three nurses had been unfairly dismissed, said there were no reasonable grounds for sacking them for gross misconduct.

He criticised the foundation trust for believing the evidence of the mentally-ill patient over that of the experienced nurses, who were immediately suspended and who gave their evidence more than a year after the incident took place.

Judge Roper said: "The claimants were criticised for being inconsistent in their recollections, and this aspect featured in the decision to dismiss them.

"In contrast, the patient was found to be credible, and his evidence preferred to that of the three claimants.

"In my judgement, that is an extraordinary and unreasonable conclusion. (The patient) was an inconsistent and unreliable witness.

"He is a very ill psychiatric patient who is dangerous and disruptive."

Mrs Little said she and her colleagues had undergone considerable stress over the past two years.

"It has left me in a position where I have to rethink my future, because the trust has a monopoly on mental health provision in the county, and it is now impossible for me to find a comparable job within mental health," she said.

"It has taken an impartial judge to say that we were telling the truth about what happened, and all three of us feel vindicated in the actions we took that night."

Despite the tribunal ruling, the trust's nurse executive, Sharon Linter, stood by the sackings.

"The decision to dismiss three members of clinical staff was made, following an internal investigation conducted in line with the trust's agreed employment policies," she said.

"In order to ensure the safety of its patients, who are often very vulnerable, the trust believes the dismissal of these staff members was fair and appropriate."

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