Dismissal of mental health nurse ‘harsh’ but not unfair

Posted: 21st December 2012

The dismissal of a veteran mental health nurse after a mistake led to a patient being given the wrong medication would be viewed by many as ‘harsh’ but it was not unfair, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has ruled.

The nurse had an unblemished near 40-year career before she was dismissed from her position in 2006. She admitted that she had delegated drug administration to an unqualified care assistant resulting in the wrong patient being given sedatives. No ill effects ensued for the patient but the nurse also conceded that she had not reported the matter to a doctor and she was dismissed for gross misconduct.EAT

Her unfair dismissal claim was rejected by an employment tribunal. However, on appeal, her lawyers argued, inter alia, that the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) had not viewed her conduct as meriting any disciplinary action. Dismissing her appeal, the EAT emphasised that there were important differences in the factors properly taken into account by the NMC and the nurse’s employers.

The EAT concluded: ‘This was undoubtedly a sad case and any reader of the employment tribunal's judgment, or of this judgment, might well think that this was a hard case and that the employee had been harshly treated. However, the tribunal's function was not to consider whether or not those adjectives or adverbs were appropriate but to apply the test laid down by law. It reached its decision, applying the correct test, in a manner which was open to it and was not perverse.’