Friday, August 29, 2008


Red News Readers,

Mental health nursing is very demanding work and can drain a nurses' compassion but there is no doubt that this nurse went far too far in the way that she managed this patient's care. No doubt at some stage this matter will come before the Nurses and Midwives Board which is the profession's way of regulating the behaviour of members of the profession in relation to registered nurses and enrolled nurses. Employers and managers should remember that, that the nursing profession can and does regulate under the Nurses Act of 1991, but the NMB can't regulate those health care workers who are not required by the Nurses Act to be regulated.

Jenny Haines

Nurse condemned over suicide

Bellinda Kontominas,

August 29, 2008

THE first time Emily Chapman tried to end her life in Cumberland Hospital's psychiatric unit, she saved herself at the last minute by pressing the emergency button. But the response she received was far from compassionate.

A night nurse, Margot Gattenby, is alleged to have made her crawl back to her bed and accused her of being "an attention seeker".

The next time, Ms Chapman hanged herself. She didn't summon help.

Yesterday, delivering her findings into an inquest into Ms Chapman's death, the state coroner,

Mary Jerram, criticised the behaviour of Ms Gattenby towards Ms Chapman as "abhorrent", but stopped short of blaming her for the death.

Ms Chapman, 20, had made regular complaints to her parents and written diary entries about her fear of Ms Gattenby, one of the nurses who cared for her in an acute psychiatric ward at Cumberland Hospital.

She had told staff she was afraid of the fixtures in the bathroom, felt unsafe and had a desire to hang or strangle herself.

Her father, John Chapman, told Glebe Coroner's court his daughter had written a letter complaining about Ms Gattenby but had not sent it for fear of retribution. She wrote of being deliberately kept awake, of being denied her medication, and being told to "watch the television" when she was feeling anxious.

Ms Gattenby also allegedly told her she had "run out of compassion" for her, and that she was not really ill.

"All of these experiences have been traumatic and damaging above and beyond the illness that I'm already suffering," Ms Chapman wrote.

"I trust that you will take this matter seriously, address this inexcusable behaviour and attitude, and act to change the situation for the good of all the patients in the ward."

She complained that Ms Gattenby had verbally abused her on several occasions, including after the suicide attempt in December 2005 in which Ms Gattenby allegedly said the attempt was "attention seeking" and if she was serious she would not have pressed the emergency button. As a result of those alleged comments, Ms Chapman told another nurse that she would "never press that button again".

She did not raise the alarm the next time she attempted suicide and died the following day on February 15, 2006.

During the inquest, Ms Gattenby denied making any of the alleged comments or that she had made Ms Chapman crawl back to her bed following the first attempt on her life, or that she threw her onto her bed.

She also denied ever having had a conversation with her nursing unit manager in which she apologised for her behaviour.

Ms Jerram was yesterday scathing of Ms Gattenby's treatment of Ms Chapman.

"At the very least, her lack of compassion is abhorrent," she said. "At worst, her remarks and actions were ignorant, cruel and probably damaging.

"I query the training and supervision of nursing staff, which allows distressed psychiatric patients to be bullied or abused to such an extent."

However, Ms Jerram said she could not be satisfied that Ms Gattenby's behaviour caused or contributed to Ms Chapman's death.

Ms Jerram was "concerned" by some hospital practices, including the fact that the ward had locked bathrooms and showers which allowed hanging to occur.

She said nursing staff on duty on the evening Ms Chapman took her life were "insufficiently trained" and did not conduct CPR on her as they were "ignorant" of the most recent education on procedures for resuscitation.

But she noted emergency procedures had since been updated and understood by hospital staff.

Support is available for anyone who may be distressed by calling SANE Helpline 1800 18 7263; Lifeline 131 114; Salvo Crisis Line 9331 2000; beyondblue 1300 22 46 36.