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Sometimes it seems that there is a cascade of items, similar and worrying that catches attention in a short time.  That was this week’s experience for me.

The first news item that gave me pause was a story in Queensland about a 77 year old woman admitted to hospital in such a poor state that the staff reported the carer for neglect.  The police statement from Acting Detective Senior Sergeant Lee Fortune said a search of the property uncovered “extremely unhygienic” conditions that allegedly caused the older woman’s health to deteriorate. “It’s extremely disturbing, it’s extremely sad that a 77-year-old female who was supposed to be cared for by that person would be living long-term in that sort of condition,” he said.  “It’s distressing for police to unearth this sort of lack of care.”

Another article “When Carers Kill” (ABC News, Sarah Dingle June 2018) reported, “One person with disabilities is killed by their carer almost every three months in Australia” stating these were acts of domestic violence.  This was a shocking statistic.  The article made reference to a recent Senate report: “having a disability means you are more likely to suffer violence, especially if you are a woman, whether you live in a residential care setting or the family home and if you have an intellectual disability, a study by the National Police Research Unit found you are 10 times more likely to have experienced abuse than an abled person”.

In relation to discussions about criminal law for nurses and elder abuse I have reported a number of cases where carers have been accused of neglect or abuse and failure to provide the essentials of life and in relation to the neglect case above the carer will face court.  At first glance this is not a “nursing” issue yet as we know people are living in the community dependent on the good will and care by family and paid carers.

Sometimes community based staff pick up on issues and services are expected to monitor and intervene if they suspect abuse.  The isolation that surrounds such tragedies is perhaps a major problem.  What we often don’t consider is the capacity of the carer to cope and respond appropriately to the pressures and demands created by the role often thrust upon them.

Every nurse knows the frustration and testing times that are created by working with aged and disabled people and we are supported by a system and shifts that (eventually) come to an end.  I don’t know the whole story I probably never will but previous cases often failed in court due to the incapacity of the carer to fully understand and respond to the needs of the dependent person.

We nurses are sometimes aware of situations and feel helpless to intervene but we do have a responsibility.  We also need to be aware of just how hard it might be for the carer and try to put in place support if it comes within our role.  It seems easier to judge the failures rather than understand the causes but the vulnerability of the elder or person with a disability and the problems identified by the police that affected not only the lady in the report but all the animals on the property do indicate a failure of coping and managing that is very disturbing.

The next news item that stopped me in my tracks was a report from Germany about a nurse Niels Högel who was accused of 100 counts of murder. He was cleared of only 14 counts, and confessed to 43 murders. There have been numerous nurses throughout the world who have murdered patients.  The media often refers to them as “Angels of Death”.  This man however murdered so many people over the years that the court was astounded.  It is believed the number is far higher than those proven.  It seems he initiated cardiac arrests with medication in order to show off his resuscitation skills said one article.  Again shocking and outside the regular nurse world yet a research study in the UK proposed that staff should be alert and aware of trends in excess of the norm when deaths occur and we can’t afford to be naïve and too trusting.

Finally on the heels of that news item came one from the USA in Ohio Dr William Husel, a critical-care doctor was arrested and charged with murder in the deaths of 25 hospital patients who authorities say were deliberately given overdoses of painkillers.  The thing that gave me a fright was that Hospital officials have said all employees who had a role in administering medication to the victims have been removed from patient care as a precaution.

It seems 48 nurses and pharmacists were reported to their respective professional boards.  The news item stated authorities were not pursuing charges against other staff but every one of us can appreciate just how serious and devastating the consequences to their careers will be.

Looking at an item earlier this year, “Family launches legal action over Bupa nursing home sex attack” (Anne Connolly, ABC Investigations, Posted 11 Apr 2019) I reviewed some nursing home statistics about investigated abuse of elders.  More than 3,700 residents in aged care homes have been sexually assaulted in the past decade in Australia.  The post stated that analysis by the ABC showed the rate of reported suspected sexual assaults committed by staff and residents has increased by 65 per cent from 10 years ago.  According to the latest statistics from the Department of Health, 547 incidents of the alleged unlawful sexual contact with residents were reported last year.

So it is pretty depressing, so many situations that we nurses are peripheral to yet so many people damaged, and bereaved, lost and affected.  We can’t police or monitor everything but we might have to be alert and aware when situations or queries arise.  Instead of shrugging or gossiping being objective and noting aberrations, not witch hunting just being alert would seem to be a good strategy.

There are some fabulous webinar recordings by Pam Savage regarding Nurses and the Law at the Nursing CPD Institute. The  Nursing CPD Institute provides good information and CPD  on an array of nursing topics in a range of easy learning ways including webinars and quizzes on the latest information that Nurses need to know – remember the Nursing CPD Institute  was created by Australian Nurses for Nurses!