Saturday 7 December 2019

High Court cancels registration of nurse who assaulted patient

Tim Healy

A nurse who carried out a "shocking" assault on a sleeping woman with Down syndrome has had her registration cancelled by the President of the High Court.

Mr Justice Peter Kelly said yesterday he had "no hesitation" in confirming the Nursing and Midwifery Board's decision to cancel the registration of Anne Moffatt, of Ardnaglass, Ballymote, Co Sligo.

He agreed with the board that the assault at a residential services centre on the night of August 10-11, 2018 was the "ultimate violation" levelled at a vulnerable person while in their bed asleep and was of such an "egregious" nature as to render Moffatt unfit to practise as a nurse.

The victim, who was aged in her 40s, was asleep in her bed when Moffatt struck her with the back of her right hand five or six times and hit her on the forehead with one of her flip-flops.

Photos demonstrated a "quite nasty" assault of a forceful nature and showed the victim suffered bruising to the face and scalp and had some hair missing.

The photos also showed some hair on the floor.

The victim was not just vulnerable due to having Down syndrome and an intellectual disability, but also because she is non-verbal and therefore could not describe what happened to her or the after effects of the assault, said Mr Justice Kelly.

The board had "quite properly" concluded there is no place in the nursing profession for the respondent, he held.

Moffatt, a mother of three, was working as an agency nurse at the time of the assault.

Last June, she admitted before Manorhamilton District Court to assault under Section 3 of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act. She was convicted and fined €1,000.

Moffatt told the District Court she had bought half a litre of vodka before starting work and consumed it before and during work.

She apologised to the victim and said she was experiencing issues with alcohol and depression which had resulted in her hospitalisation in 2017.

Solicitor for the board Stephen McLoughlin yesterday told the High Court an aggravating factor was that, at the time of the assault, Moffatt had attempted to mislead about the cause of the injuries and suggested the victim had fallen and hit her head off a door frame.


Back in June, Manorhamilton District Court heard that Moffatt was a night nurse at the facility on the date of the incident.

She provided a prepared statement to gardai three months after the incident in which she detailed what had happened.

Moffatt said that she had "never done anything like this before and it is out of character for me."

She said she was a recovering alcoholic and now believes she had been suffering from depression for a long period of time.

On her way to work between 8pm and 8.30pm on August 10, 2018 she bought a bottle of vodka and drank about one fifth of it.

She went to work and went through the hand-over from the day shift and carried on as normal with all patients in bed by 10pm.

She said there had been no row and no issues adding it was a "normal evening".

At around 11.30pm she returned to the kitchen with her vodka and kept drinking leaving about one quarter of the vodka in the bottle.

She had been doing her rounds of the small group of sleeping patients at around 2.45am by herself.

She entered the room of the victim who was asleep at the time and began to slap her across the face with the "back of her hand" and "for some unexplained reason".

The victim woke up and put up her hands and Moffatt removed her flip flop and struck the victim "on the forehead" with it.

Moffatt said that she "must have pulled out clumps of (the victim's) hair" but said she had no recollection of doing this.

"I was in shock. I checked the service users at 3.15am and noticed bruising on the right side of (the victim's) head."

She telephoned the duty manager and made up a story that her victim had hit herself on a door-frame when she got up to go to the toilet.

When the duty manager arrived at 4.10am Moffatt said she lied about what happened and wrote up the story she had concocted on an incident form.

She said she became defensive whilst speaking with the duty manager and she left work and drove home at 5.10am.

"I was in shock, I could not believe what I had done," she said adding "I am truly, truly sorry for what I have done".

She said she previously sought treatment for her alcoholism and depression in 2017 but had a number of relapses.

She suggested that maybe her behaviour on the night in question was as a result of her reaction to the vodka she consumed adding she had no history of violence.

The sister of the victim wrote a victim impact statement on her behalf which was read into court.

In it she detailed the huge physical and psychological impact of the assault on her sister and their family.

She said her sister was a "gentle, loving, laid back person" who had "become extremely anxious and socially withdrawn" following the attack.

The victim had to move to a new facility and this "transition was very difficult for her".

The victim's sister described the "tremendous breach of trust" caused by this incident adding it had been particularly distressing for their elderly mother.

"Now that trust has been broken."

Judge Kilrane said the defendant had perpetrated an angry and vicious assault on a vulnerable person.

"The victim was in bed asleep at the time.

"She is described as being a lovely inoffensive person who gave no trouble whatsoever.

"She was awakened by a vicious and sustained assault by a person who was there to care for her," he said.

He said that considering the shame the publicity of this case will bring, coupled with her losing her career,

"I don't think imprisonment would be appropriate," said the Judge.

Noting the €5,000 compensation in court, Judge Kilrane said this was "a substantial sum in this day and age and more importantly it's a real expression of remorse".

"In all circumstances, bearing in mind that she is facing formal disbarrment and the reality of further civil proceedings, I will convict and fine her €1,000," he said.

When Ms Moffatt's solicitor was instructed to pay over the €5,000 compensation to the victim's family, they declined to accept it and instead nominated a charity to benefit.

Sligo Champion