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Nurse jailed for ill-treating vulnerable elderly patients receiving hospital care

Omagh Courthouse. Photo: Kenneth Allen / Geograph

A former staff nurse has been jailed and banned from working with children and vulnerable adults for life following conviction for ill-treating three dementia patients.

However a defence barrister contended the incidents could not be separated from “understaffing and under-resourcing” on the hospital ward.

Anna Kelly (54) from Garvallagh Road, Fintona committed the 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 between June 5-20, 2020

She previously denied the charges, only changing her plea on the day a contest was to be heard.

At Omagh Magistrates’ Court relatives of the victims sat in the public gallery many of them becoming visibly upset as the details were disclosed.

A prosecuting barrister explained 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 by the arm causing pain.

Kelly brought the patient to a sink and insisted she could wash herself without assistance despite having a weakness to the right side of her body.

When the patient became distressed Kelly pointed into her face and “shouted aggressively”.

The second incident involved a male patient who required one-to-one observation due to high risk of falling.

A nurse found his room was in darkness and he was trying to get his legs over the side of the bed.

His meal had been left for him which had gone cold, but Kelly was trying to make him eat it. When he was reluctant and pressed his lips closed, she poured juice into his mouth.

In the final incident a nurse entered a male patient’s room where Kelly was “aggressively” telling him to sit down then pushed him by his right shoulder 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 used as a last resort”.

A defence barrister said the defendant accepts her culpability “on the basis of reckless acts rather than deliberate attempts to inflict ill-treatment”.

It was confirmed Kelly’s 27-year career “is over permanently”.

“She was dismissed from her job and has been suspended by the Nursing and Midwifery Council. This conviction means she will inevitably be struck off. That’s punishment in itself. Nursing was her life.”

The defence contended the incident “cannot be divorced from the Covid pandemic. The defendant found herself working in an understaffed, under-resourced ward and unfortunately she fell down in the standard of care … She accepts she should have said she wasn’t coping and she was burnt out, but she didn’t. A dedicated, professional nurse got to the stage where she couldn’t take it anymore.”

District Judge Peter Magill remarked: “These were three extremely vulnerable people who needed care. We have to demand that those who care do so with compassion, concern and understanding. There can be no room for this type of behaviour. I feel there must be an element of deterrent to send out the message that this will not be tolerated and to give some comfort to those who have to go into care.”

Kelly was jailed for three months but released on bail pending appeal.

The Western Trust who previously refused to clarify if Kelly had been suspended, was asked to comment on her claims of understaffing and under-resourcing on the ward.

A spokesperson replied: “It would be inappropriate to provide comment during ongoing legal proceedings.”

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