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Whistleblower is awarded €5,000 for unfair dismissal

Care worker had revealed abuse of medication on Mount Carmel ward

A care worker who was sacked after blowing the whistle on nurses who crushed non-prescribed drugs in the tea of demanding patients at Mount Carmel’s Forensic Unit has been awarded €5,000 after winning an unfair dismissal case.

He realised there were nurses who were crushing pills for patients who were particularly demanding at night

In its ruling, an industrial tribunal noted no evidence was presented during the proceedings to show that the Health Department or the company with which the care worker was employed had conducted an investigation into the reported malpractice.

The tribunal heard how Patrick Agius – whose job was to prepare coffee and tea for patients as well as distribute food – had seen nurses administering medi­cations not prescribed by the hospital’s doctors.

Mr Agius, who knew what medication each patient was prescribed, refused to hand out drinks to patients because he knew the drugs had not been prescribed.

He reported the matter in May 2011 and was eventually sacked from his post with private healthcare provider Support Services Ltd, the firm engaged by the Health Division to provide nursing services.

Mr Agius, who was engaged with a specific agreement to work nights because he had another job in the mornings, told the tribunal he first witnessed the abuse when he saw a night-duty nurse crushing tablets to add them to a patient’s cup of tea.

During the night, there were usually two nurses on watch duty while another two rested. He realised that there were nurses who were crushing pills for patients who were particularly demanding at night.

Mr Agius reported the matter to Joe Galea, the Health Department’s night manager responsible for nursing services.

He decided to report the matter on May 6, 2011, because the nurses could have been placing patients’ life in jeopardy.

The next morning, his boss, Gaetan Bonnici, called him and told him not to report for work any longer as he was being fired.

Mr Agius asked him to put this in writing and, in a subsequent e-mail exchange, Mr Bonnici informed him he was being transferred to another ward, which did not need people working at night, and would be working mornings.

Mr Bonnici told the tribunal that between October 2009, when Mr Agius started working for the company, and April 2011, various nurses had complained about the care worker’s attitude.

He said he had called Mr Agius for a meeting after receiving a declaration, signed by a number of nurses, who complained that he often interfered with their job and failed to obey their orders.

He offered to transfer him to Mater Dei Hospital and then to another ward but Mr Agius refused and asked for four days’ leave. He approved the first day but not the rest.

However, Mr Agius still did not go to work on those days so he called to inform him that the company considered him to have abandoned his job.

Nevertheless, in his judgment, Anthony Degiovanni, who presided over the tribunal, said it had resulted that the company had not received any report on Mr Agius.

It only acted after he and another nurse, Mary Ann Bugeja, submitted an incident report in which they blew the whistle on what was happening at the hospital’s Forensic Unit.

“There is no evidence to show that the company (Support Services Limited) investigated the allegations (made by Mr Agius and Ms Bugeja) on administering pills which had not been prescribed,” the tribunal said.

It ruled that Support Services Ltd had illegally sacked Mr Agius and ordered the company to pay him €5,000 by way of compensation.

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