Should nurses peeve patients?
Posted on February 7th, 2011

Dr. Tilak Fenando



[Proper healthcare]

*Delivering sound medical and related services

*Maintaining good health through prevention and treatment

*Has enormous financial outlay

*Competent and caring staff  

Health is the general condition of a person or metabolic efficiency of a human. In 1948 the World Health Organisation defined the term “ƒ”¹…”health’ as “ƒ”¹…”a state of complete physical, mental and social well being and not merely infirmity’  

Nurses are qualified healthcare professionals assigned to deliver sound medical and related services aimed at maintaining good health through prevention and treatment of disease. The English nurse Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing, contributed immensely to the knowledge and improvement of public health.In Sri Lanka, healthcare service has been on a platter for decades at enormous financial outlay to the Government.

Sure, patients have had to face shortcomings from the Government hospital services from time to time, however, the new Health Minister appears to be overhauling the entire department within the Government sector with fervour and commitment. After all, health of a nation is wealth of the populace.

Private hospitals

The private sector in the meanwhile has progressed rapidly with modern luxuries which cost patients an arm and a leg. Some entrepreneurs have established private hospitals with associated schools of nursing too, where nurse training is executed according to a curriculum approved by the Health Ministry. Even with such optimism, complaints of varying degree have surfaced intermittently.

Nightingales play an important role in health welfare. File photo

The Daily News “ƒ”¹…”HealthWatch’ column on September 6, 2010 focused on “ƒ”¹…”The down fall in the quality of human resources’ in some of the private sector health organisations. Main criticism levelled against some incompetent nurses was as follows:

“It is very sad that some nurses in private hospitals do not know how to find a vein for a simple blood test. The situation becomes worse when a child is subjected to a blood test.

It would be acceptable if the so called “ƒ”¹…”nurse’ wears a “ƒ”¹…” trainee’ tag, but how about a qualified nurse trying to find a vein and pricking three or four places on your child’s arm?” It hurts both child and watching parents indeed!

The same report focused on a nurse who lacked knowledge on “how to operate a simple and ordinary gluco-meter to test blood sugar of an elderly patient”. Disgraceful!

Unbearable patient

In another private hospital a female heart patient had been treated for gastritis; a different hospital had produced a bill for Rs 1.5 million and demanded money from a husband whose wife died at childbirth during early part of 2010. The cause of death, as reported, had been apparently due to “erroneous administration of 30 millilitres of deriphyllin to the pregnant mother”. Scandalous!

A “ƒ”¹…”qualified’ staff nurse attached to a NHS hospital in the UK once grappled to find a vein to insert a cannula on the dorsal surface of the hand of a patient prior to a subdural-haematoma operation (bleeding from underneath the brain).

After several unsuccessful punctures the unbearable patient pleaded with the nurse to get someone to help her! Excited staff nurse made another quick jab and set the intra-venous (IV) line and bandaged the area. Few hours later the appalled charge-nurse found out to her dismay that the staff nurse had punctured patient’s tissue instead of the vein to introduce the cannula which caused severe inflammation.

In a different (UK) situation, a staff nurse “ƒ”¹…”starved’ an 82 year old lady for three consecutive days, after reading a “ƒ”¹…”Nil by Mouth’ instruction on her bed and let her die in a most inhumane manner by disconnecting the IV (saline) drip finally, informing her staff that the old soul qualified for “ƒ”¹…”Liverpool Path Way’ (let her die peacefully!).

Rubbing salt in to the wound, two nurses (before and after shift change) at night injected the above-mentioned patient with a dose of morphine respectively without checking the medical record card which amounted to a double dose and caused the patient’s death in a couple of hours. Naturally the bereaved family took the hospital authorities to the laundry in an attempt to prosecute the nurse and the hospital for negligence and deliberate “ƒ”¹…”clinical murder’!

Medical negligence

In a Colombo private hospital when a young patient was treated in the ICU for dengue fever I witnessed nurses at the ICU making such a din at night disturbing the whole ward that a visitor at the scene burst out with an apt comment. In another prominent private hospital in Colombo, the tragic death of a 101 year dear old lady in the ICU was due to lack of commonsense or gross negligence on the part of nursing staff, according to her family, for disregarding her age and exposing the patient to extreme cold temperatures of the air-conditioning which she could not bear. Naturally she died of hypothermia.

Not even a month ago a friend of mine was directed by a nurse into a pre-surgery room in a renowned ENT hospital in Colombo prior to a “ƒ”¹…”TP-PV’ eye operation where patient’s annotations were sent through the patient himself to the eye surgeon to perceive and carry out treatment on him. It was nothing but a sheer stroke of fortune that the patient being literate with commonsense decided to glance through the log prior to handing it over to the surgeon. Alas! He was bewildered to note what he carried was a wrong report of a different patient who needed a cataract operation as opposed to the nerve related TP-PV operation on him.

How careless, heinous and with what degree of responsibility such the nurses in this most renowned ENT hospital executed their moral duty?

To err is human in any field after all, but sheer negligence or inexperienced nurses or trainees given immense responsibilities to play with human life is unpardonable. To this end hospitals concerned need to ensure that always an experienced and qualified staff are always assigned to look after the sick, old and the frail to avoid any unwarranted medical negligence.

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