The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) has recommended that the HSE pay a public health nurse €10,000 for the way it handled a formal complaint against the nurse by the father of a disabled girl.
In the case, the public health nurse has not returned to work due to stress since February of last year after a newspaper ran a story based on the father’s complaints over the HSE’s refusal to provide treatment to his daughter.
The article criticised the nurse but did not name her. The father also filed a formal complaint over the HSE decision to the HSE’s ‘Your Service, Your Say’.
WRC Adjudication Officer, Emile Daly said that it was known by management from the very outset that the public health nurse did nothing wrong and everything right, in the clinical decision she took concerning the girl.
Ms Daly said that “frontline employees require frontline support, but especially when the employer knows from the outset that they have wrongly been identified as a guilty party”.
However, Ms Daly stated that the public health nurse was afforded the least protection in the whole process and the final report into the father's complaint was "grossly unfair" to the public health nurse.
The HSE completed two reports - a draft final report and the final report - into the investigation of the father's complaint.
The draft report, circulated on February 8, 2018, set out why the public health nurse's clinical decision on the day concerning the girl was justified.
Also, in terms of the recommendations in the draft report the nurse’s position was protected and her decisions were supported.
However, the HSE issued a final report in March that failed to include findings that were in the draft report which had exonerated the public health nurse from wrongdoing.
The public health nurse was not told that the final report would be different from the draft report in this respect.
Also, when her union representative asked the HSE by letter dated February 13 if the contents of the final report would be the same as the draft report, they did not get a reply.
In the final report, the HSE apologised to the family of the disabled girl and recommended that public health nurses would be reminded about the categories of patient that are eligible for treatment.
As a result, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisaton (INMO) contended to the WRC that the public health nurse “found herself in the situation where despite having done nothing wrong, an apology was given by her employer in response to a complaint made against her and in doing so it was not made sufficiently clear that she had done no wrong”.
The INMO contended that the reason that the report was so apologetic and unsupportive of the public health nurse was due to the critical media coverage.
The INMO said that the public health nurse felt unprotected by her employer in a rain of criticism that was baseless and that her professional reputation was now undermined publicly.
In response, the HSE resisted the nurse’s grievance complaint in its entirety and contended that the nurse had the support of management at all stages and continues to do so and urged the nurse to return to work.
Ms Daly stated that ‘Your service Your say’ is a laudable plan to make the actions of the employer accountable to the public.
She said: “Accountability does not require an apology when there has been a good clinical decision. It requires an explanation of the basis for the decision."
"Otherwise the 'Your service Your say' becomes a device to quell criticism rather than accounting to the public for what occurred."
Ms Daly upheld the public nurse’s grievance against the HSE that the final report failed to vindicate her actions in refusing treatment to the disabled girl and that the final report differed significantly from the draft report that had been agreed.
Ms Daly said that the findings of the final report failed to make clear that the complaint against the public health nurse personally had no basis.
INMO Director of Industrial Relations, Tony Fitzpatrick said: “It’s clear that the HSE has substantial lessons to learn to ensure its staff are supported through complaints, especially through the “Your Service, Your Say” scheme.
He said: “Our member did nothing wrong in this case, yet was left to face public accusations without support or understanding from their employer.
Mr Fitzpatrick said: “The INMO is run by and for nurses and midwives. We are proud to stand with our members in these cases, ensuring that their rights and dignity at work are protected.”