Sacking claims must be reheard

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TWO nurses sacked after being accused of tying up a dementia patient have had their unfair dismissal claim put back to square one.

Amanda Crawford and Neil Preston were awarded more than £100,000 compensation by an employment tribunal last year after it found their sacking by Suffolk Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust was unfair.

But an Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) overturned that decision on Monday. It revoked compensation and referred the case back for a new employment tribunal hearing after Judge William Birtles, giving the EAT’s judgement, said there remained ‘insufficient clarity’ over it.

The EAT heard the two nurses, each with more than 20 years’ experience and spotless records, were on the trust’s Westgate Ward at West Suffolk Hospital in September 2008.

It was said Mr Preston tied an 89-year-old dementia patient’s mobile chair to a table to inhibit his movement after the man’s ‘aggressive behaviour’ aroused concern for patient safety. It was done with Mrs Crawford’s knowledge but both strongly denied claims the man was tied to the chair. They were sacked for gross misconduct.

The first tribunal criticised the trust’s investigation and said no reasonable employer could have found the man was tied to the chair. It added that tying to a chair was not recognised practice but was a ‘practical solution’.

Judge Birtles said the central issue was whether the trust had made a reasonable investigation and he accepted its QC Peter Wallington’s claim that the tribunal had substituted its own views for the trust’s.

The trust said it was pleased by the decision. A spokesman added: “The trust’s priority will always be patient safety and the judgment from the appeal reflects this. We have always considered that the dismissals were justified in terms of giving utmost priority to patients’ interests.”