Beds, Herts & Bucks

Judge overturns Suffolk nurses' unfair dismissal ruling

Two Suffolk nurses who were sacked after being accused of tying an 87-year-old dementia patient to a chair have won an unfair dismissal claim.

The Court Of Appeal said Neil Preston and Amanda Crawford had "obvious justification" for restraining the man.

Both were dismissed for alleged "gross misconduct", in 2009, and won an unfair dismissal claim, but this was successfully challenged by the NHS.

However, Lord Justice Elias restored the original tribunal's finding.

He said it was "little short of astonishing" the pair were initially reported to police by their bosses.

Aggressive patient

Sitting with Lord Justice Laws and Lord Justice Kitchin, Lord Justice Elias continued: "I recognise that it is important that hospitals in this situation must be seen to be acting transparently and not concealing wrongdoing.

"But they also owed duties to their long-serving staff, and defensive management responses which focus solely on their own interests do them little credit."

The two nurses were reported by a colleague over events during the nightshift on the Westgate Ward of West Suffolk Hospital, Bury St Edmunds, in September 2008.

Both Ms Crawford and Mr Preston had more than 20 years' experience and spotless disciplinary records, the court heard.

The dementia patient had been agitated, aggressive, spitting, swearing, punching and throwing things around, and there were concerns for his own safety.

Chair secured

He was refusing food and medicine and Mr Preston was reported as having used a sheet to tie the legs of the pensioner's mobile chair to a table "to inhibit him from moving".

That was said to have been done "with the knowledge and in the presence of" Mrs Crawford and both nurses also faced allegations - which they vehemently denied - that another sheet was tied around the patient and the chair.

At the original employment tribunal, after the nurses were dismissed in 2009, Mrs Crawford was awarded £29,507 damages and Mr Preston £73,550, after the panel cleared them of tying down the patient.

The Suffolk Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust then successfully challenged the unfair dismissal finding in 2011.

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