‘Serious departure of professional standards.’

A health practitioner has been reprimanded and fired from her job after slapping an ICU patient in the face

A Queensland doctor with 35 years’ experience under her belt has been reprimanded over an isolated incident that saw her lose her hospital job.

In August 2014, the doctor was the duty medical officer of an intensive care unit at a private hospital in North Queensland.

An 82-year-old patient was in the ICU at that time, having had surgery earlier in the day.

She was disoriented, confused and at times, screaming out during the night.

The patient continued to be unsettled despite being administered medications, including Valium, intravenously.

At 3.30am the doctor was called by a registered nurse about the patient, who was again agitated, and ordered further medication to be administered.

At around this time, the doctor slapped the patient on the left side of the face twice, with an open right hand, in the presence of four registered nurses, leaving the patient with tissue trauma on her face.

The next day, the doctor’s employment was suspended and on 25 August 2014, her employment with the hospital was terminated.

Immediate action was taken by the Health Ombudsman to impose conditions on her registration, including chaperone and educational requirements.

The doctor admitted the conduct amounted to a breach of the code of conduct before the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal in September this year.

She explained that she had been concerned about the patient’s agitation escalating, and the possibility that this might jeopardise her fragile post-surgical state by opening her sutures and causing abdominal bleeding.

However she did not reason that slapping a patient in the face was an appropriate physical restraint for a patient suffering from delirium.

The tribunal accepted that it was “an isolated incident in extreme circumstances” and the doctor had found herself “in a difficult and highly stressful situation”.

“Nevertheless, the conduct … was a serious departure of the professional standards expected of a medical practitioner of her experience.”

The doctor was found to have behaved in a way that constitutes professional misconduct, and reprimanded.

Conditions on her registration had already been removed in 2015 after successful completion.

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