Nurse waited eight hours to treat inmate with brain injury

A nurse who failed to send a prisoner with a serious head injury to hospital until eight hours after he was assaulted has been barred from working in any corrections centre.

Nurse Melanie Isobella Vale twice found the injured prisoner lying on the floor of the prison health centre, vomiting, but failed to conduct neurological checks, a tribunal heard.

It was not until she found him hours later, unresponsive in a prison cell, after reports that he had been frothing at the mouth, that she made the call to send him to hospital.

The prisoner, who had been assaulted in an exercise yard, had a subdural haemorrhage which resulted in a brain injury, Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal heard.

A prison nurse has been banned from working in any corrections centres for two years.
A prison nurse has been banned from working in any corrections centres for two years.

Ms Vale was at a prison health centre on Saturday, October 8, 2016, when she was called to attend to a prisoner who had been assaulted at 8.45am.

She assessed him as having a low risk head injury and he was taken to the prison health centre and given pain relief, after Nurse Vale phoned a doctor.

At 9.27am, after being told the prisoner had put his fingers down his throat, she went to see him and helped him with a sick bag, but took no observations.

When she returned at 9.50am she found the prisoner on the floor and took his vital observations, but left another nurse to take neurological observations.

After 11am, Ms Vale returned and found the prisoner was on the floor and had vomited.

The tribunal heard Ms Vale thought the prisoner had deteriorated and suggested he go to hospital, but another nurse claimed he was faking it, so she did nothing.

Just before 1pm, she again suggested that he should go to hospital, but did not press it when the other nurse again said he was faking it. He was later returned to his cell.

At 4.52pm, she found him unresponsive, after reports he had been frothing from the mouth, the tribunal heard.

Nurse Vale finally decided the prisoner had to go to hospital and an ambulance was called.

The prisoner, who was found to have a brain injury, remained in hospital for five months.

Ms Vale lost her job, her registration was suspended for four months until conditions were imposed and she has not worked since losing her prison position.

She has had non-practising registration since November, 2018.

It was found that her assessments of the prisoner at 9.51am, 10am and 11am were inadequate.

Ms Vale had failed to ensure he was taken to hospital after she realised at 11am that his condition had deteriorated.

She ought to have recognised the possibility of a closed head injury, the Health Ombudsman claimed.

The tribunal found it was professional misconduct and imposed a registration condition that she refrain from working as a nurse in a correctional facility, with a review after two years.


Originally published as Prison nurse waited eight hours to treat inmate with brain injury