Nurse reinstated after slapping patient's face

A Christchurch mental health nurse who slapped a patient's cheek after she spat in his face has been reinstated.

Kees de Bruin was fired from his position as a registered nurse at Hillmorton Hospital after he slapped a psychiatric patient's cheek, allegedly knelt on her while trying to restrain her and failed to report the incident.

In March last year, de Bruin took a personal grievance case to the Employment Relations Authority. The authority found the dismissal by the Canterbury District Health Board to be justified.

Last year, Andrew McKenzie, the lawyer acting for the National Union of Public Employees, which represents de Bruin, said the actions could be considered a Zinedine Zidane "moment of madness". (The French footballer headbutted an Italian player in the 2006 World Cup final.)

McKenzie said the "moment of madness" defence had been used in other industrial cases.

This week, the Employment Court ruled that de Bruin was unjustifiably dismissed because the health board failed to properly investigate the issue.

Judge Tony Couch said the board failed to re-interview witnesses and said the incident was an "extraordinary one-off event" that was "extremely unlikely to occur again". He said the patient was known to be difficult to restrain, and the stress of the Canterbury earthquakes could be partly to blame for de Bruin's actions.

De Bruin, who has more than 40 years nursing experience, said he did not kneel on the woman but admitted slapping her after she spat in his face. "My action was instinctive and reflective and I immediately regretted it," he said at the authority hearing last year.

The patient had hit out at another patient, and three nurses, including de Bruin, tried to restrain her before moving her into seclusion.

Other staff members at the unit said the patient complained of a sore chest and nausea the next day. A doctor examined the patient but found no evidence of injury.

The manager of the in-patient ward of psychiatric services for adults with intellectual disabilities at Hillmorton Hospital, Cate Kearney, told the authority that patients often had "challenging and violent behaviours" that might require restraint or seclusion.

McKenzie said yesterday that de Bruin would not comment. "He looks forward to resuming his life-long career of mental health nursing."

The Press