Medical staff told to expose sick colleagues

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The Independent Online
Doctors and nurses who believe that sick colleagues are putting patients at risk must raise the alarm even if that means breaching medical confidentiality, an inquiry has concluded.

The inquiry into the case of Amanda Jenkinson, an intensive-care nurse at Bassetlaw Hospital, Nottinghamshire, who was jailed for five years in 1996 for harming a patient, calls for a change of culture in the National Health Service to ensure that staff who pose a threat are identified before they can do harm.

There is no "absolute duty" of confidentiality but NHS professionals show a "marked and noticeable reluctance" to pass on information to colleagues that could be important to protect the safety of patients, it says.

Jenkinson, 37, was convicted at Nottingham Crown Court, after a three- year police investigation, of causing grievous bodily harm to a patient. It was alleged that she had tampered with life-support equipment to discredit colleagues.

The inquiry, commissioned by North Nottinghamshire Health Authority, makes 29 recommendations for improving recruitment practices, the checking of medical records and better communication. It suggests nurses might serve a probationary period in any new job and that their occupational health record should move with them.

The inquiry, chaired by Richard Bullock, a solicitor, said that taken together Jenkinson's references revealed a pattern of a "somewhat prickly character who had difficulty accepting guidance, let alone discipline or superior authority".

The Royal College of Nursing said patient safety was paramount but a balance had to be struck between protecting patients and stigmatising nurses with minor, especially psychiatric, illnesses.

Following the case of Beverley Allitt, a nurse at Grantham Hospital, Lincolnshire, who was given 13 life sentences in 1993 for murdering four children and attacking a further nine, NHS trusts stepped up efforts to screen out unsuitable employees. Nervous employers blacklisted anyone with a history of mental illness.

A spokesman for the college said the "blame culture" in the NHS had to be replaced with one which was more supportive.

A nurse at the centre of an inquiry into the deaths of four patients at the Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle upon Tyne, was still being questioned by police yesterday following her arrest on Tuesday.

Kathleen Atkinson was suspended from her intensive care post a year ago and dismissed two months later for alleged gross misconduct.

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