Hospital cook hired as nurse sues for stress

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The Independent Online
A HOSPITAL cook who was re-employed as a nurse looking after mentally ill patients is suing her bosses for damaging her health through stress in what is thought to be only the second case of its kind.

Denise Beechill, 38, claims that after the closure of the staff canteen at Middlewood Hospital in Sheffield where she worked, she was reassigned as a support nurse but given no training. "I had knives and forks thrown at me and, on one occasion, a man attacked me with a stick." The experience caused her to have two nervous breakdowns, after which she was dismissed by the trust.

The case follows the landmark judgment in which John Walker, a social worker, won pounds 175,000 in damages from Northumberland County Council when he suffered two nervous breakdowns after being given a "health-endangering workload" and was dismissed by the council. In that case the High Court ruled that an employer owes a duty to its employees not to cause them psychiatric damage by the volume or character of work they are required to perform.

Ms Beechill, who had worked in the hospital canteen for 18 years and for two years in the forensic care unit, said: "The responsibility of looking after such ill patients was too much for me after several violent incidents. I had a breakdown and was off work for several months ... Some of these incidents were quite disturbing but I never had any counselling."

She has been unable to work since and has psychiatric care once a week.

According to the health workers' union Unison, which is backing the claim, it is only the second time an employer has been sued for failing to protect staff from unacceptable levels of stress. Bronwyn McKenna, head of legal affairs at Unison, said: "This is one of the most appalling cases of stress that Unison has had to deal with."

A spokesman for Community Health Sheffield NHS Trust declined to comment.