Appeal Court says nurses were sacked unfairly

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TWO Bury St Edmunds nurses who were unfairly sacked have spoken of their ‘hellish’ ordeal which finally ended at the Court of Appeal last week.

Amanda Crawford and Neil Preston were dismissed amid allegations they had tied an elderly patient to a chair while working on the Westgate Ward at the Hardwick Lane Wedgwood Unit, run by the former Suffolk Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust, in September 2008.

On Friday, three of the country’s top judges restored an April 2010 Employment Tribunal ruling, which found both nurses – who had impeccable disciplinary records and more than 20 years experience between them – had been unfairly dismissed.

Mr Preston admitted to the court that he, with Mrs Crawford’s knowledge, tied an 87-year-old dementia sufferer’s mobile chair to a table using sheets, after his behaviour caused concern for the safety of other patients on the 18-bed ward.

Lords Justices Elias, Laws and Kitchin ruled it ‘perverse’ to suggest their treatment of the patient had been more detrimental to his dignity than physically restraining him in other ways, after he became ‘agitated, aggressive, hitting things, spitting, swearing, throwing drinks, kicking things and punching’.

Speaking to the Bury Free Press this week, Mr Preston, a father-of-four from Beyton, said the incident occurred when the patient, who had refused fluids and become severely dehydrated, tried to pull his drip out.

“The sheet was only used to brace the equipment and bring stability to it to prevent him from pulling the drip out,” he said. “It’s not being dramatic to say it was a matter of life or death.”

In the earlier Employment Tribunal, Mrs Crawford and Mr Preston were awarded £29,507 and £73,550 compensation respectively, but that was later overturned by an Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT).

Mr Preston, 60, said: “I’m delighted with the ruling but it’s been a David and Goliath scenario – they (SMHPT) have been throwing public money at it left right and centre and obviously we can’t afford that.

“I’m more delighted with the fact that we have won and cleared ourselves than with the compensation but, having been robbed of my career, the compensation is nowhere near what I would have earned if I’d worked until 65.

“This has been an absolutely appalling ordeal – an indescribable living hell for three and a half years.”

Mrs Crawford, 48, a mother-of-three from Barrow, said: “It’s been a terrible experience.

“I don’t think I’ll ever understand why it came to this or ever get over what they (SMHPT) put us through – it’s something that’s always going to be with us.”

An SMHPT spokeswoman said: “The trust has been confident throughout the process that it acted in the correct manner.”