An Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) report into alleged misconduct in the South West Area Health Service (SWAHS) has found that most allegations were unsubstantiated and based on ‘nothing more than gossip, speculation and hearsay’.
However, the ICAC inquiry also found that three nurses were subjected to disciplinary action ‘that was so flawed and unfair’ that the nurses were ‘entirely justified in suspecting they were being victimised’.
The inquiry investigated allegations made by seven nurses concerning alleged events at Campbelltown, Camden, Liverpool and Fairfield Hospitals.
ICAC interviewed or obtained statements from over 200 witnesses and examined more than 100,000 documents.
The inquiry’s final report, released in late-September, dismissed the allegations which included cover-ups, criminal offences, reprisals and hush money.
Most of the allegations were made by Nola Fraser, a former After Hours Nurse Manager at Campbelltown and Camden Hospitals.
ICAC rejected all allegations made by Nola Fraser – who stood unsuccessfully as the Liberal candidate in the recent Macquarie Fields by-election.
Allegations by the other six nurses were also rejected.
In each case, ICAC found ‘no evidence’ or not ‘sufficient evidence’ to support the allegations.
The most sensational allegations made by Nola Fraser and Sheree Martin were supported by ‘no evidence’ and were ‘founded on gossip, speculation and hearsay’.
Former Health Minister Craig Knowles’ handling of ‘the nurses’ complaints was entirely responsible and commendable’, ICAC found.
ICAC found insufficient evidence that nurses and others were ‘bullied, harassed or disciplined for making complaints’ within SWSAHS.
But ‘ICAC considered that nurses Yvonne Quinn, Valerie Owen and Sandra Solarz (all formerly of Campbelltown and Camden Hospitals) were subjected to disciplinary action by the Macarthur Health Service that was so flawed and unfair that they were entirely justified in suspecting they were being victimised’.
Mistakes made, but gossip damaged nurses
By Brett Holmes, General Secretary
When the allegations covered in the ICAC inquiry were first aired, the NSWNA took a cautious position. We recognised that the appropriate bodies such as the HCCC had a legitimate role to investigate such claims.
We provided assistance to members to respond to the HCCC and subsequent inquiries by the Special Commitee of Inquiry and ICAC. The NSWNA did not presume to know all the facts. Nor was it in a position to judge our members or other health workers.
Some of the claims made about the care of patients by the media and a small number of the nurse informants were clearly sensational and damaging to all those nurses and health workers who were diligently carrying out their roles at Macarthur Health and other South Western Sydney hospitals.
A great deal of damage was done to individual health workers and managers, including nurses, based upon what the ICAC called hearsay, gossip and speculation.
But it is clear from all the reports that mistakes and misjudgements were made and that care standards could not be met to the expectations of the community.
The government response to develop the South Western Sydney Clinical Services Plan and commit an additional $300 million over four years was, in my opinion, a recognition of chronic underfunding to that part of the health system.
Nurses play a very important role as advocates for their patients’ rights to a decent public health system.
It is vital that processes – within and external to the health system – allow nurses to play this role while ensuring that nurses can maintain their professional dignity and respect.
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