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Former nurse loses appeal against jail term for mistreating patients but has sentence reduced

Courts justice

A former staff nurse has lost an appeal against a prison term for ill-treating dementia patients but has had the sentence reduced.

Anna Kelly (54) from Garvallagh Road, Fintona was originally jailed for three months after committing offences against two men and a woman receiving in-patient treatment in the Ash Villa Unit at the Western Health and Social Care Trust’s Tyrone and Fermanagh Hospital in June 2020.

She previously denied the charges, only changing her plea on the day of contest.

Concerns were raised by fellow staff members after witnessing Kelly’s conduct with very vulnerable patients.

The first occurred when the defendant “forcefully” tried to push footwear on a female patient whose feet were swollen, then “unnecessarily” grab her arm causing pain.

Kelly insisted the patient could wash without assistance despite having a weakness to the right side of her body.

When she became distressed Kelly pointed into her face and, “shouted aggressively, making degrading comments.”

In the second incident a nurse found a male patient who required one-to-one observation in darkness in his room despite it being an early summer evening.

Kelly was seated in a chair placed against the patient’s bed “preventing him going anywhere and it was against policy to have her back to him”.

His meal had been left and was cold, but Kelly began spooning food into his mouth which he neither chewed nor swallowed.

When he pressed his lips closed, she poured juice into his mouth.

In the final incident a nurse witnessed Kelly “aggressively” telling a male patient to sit down then push him into a wheelchair from which he tried to get out, nearly falling in the process.

Kelly spoke abruptly, adding to the patient’s agitation, stating: “How does your family deal with you? Is this what you’re like at home?”

The patient became so distressed that sedation was required which “is only ever a last resort”.

Prosecution counsel said Kelly’s conduct was “demeaning, distressing and reckless. The impact for the victims’ families was exacerbated by the pandemic as they weren’t able to see their relatives and were receiving information about the incidents but unable to check they were okay. They found that extremely difficult”.

A defence barrister told the appeal Kelly “is sorry and accepts she was wrong … There is no greater punishment for any professional than realising their career is over. The defendant was dismissed from her job and suspended by the Nursing and Midwifery Council. She isn’t contesting being struck off. She is barred from working with children and vulnerable adults for life … The details of this matter will be reported and read by the public, the nursing profession and former colleagues. That shame is punishment itself. Nursing was her life. She gave it everything.”

The defence explained Kelly was struggling to cope with the pressure of her job and this had been heightened by the Covid pandemic.

He said: “This is symptomatic of a healthcare system running on empty. There aren’t enough staff in the first place and shifts are not being filled … Every single person can break and behave in a way contrary to themselves, their training and the law. She should have put her hand up and taken a break, but she didn’t. She cared about the patients, her colleagues and the empty space she would create on the rota.”

Upholding the prison terms but reducing it by one month the judge told Kelly: “A nurse is a role which rightly comes with the expectation of the highest standards of professionalism, providing dignity and care to the most vulnerable. Your conduct failed to meet these standards and in turn you failed your noble profession.”

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