Nurses union attacks judge’s conclusions into Fino disappearance from elderly home

Nursing union MUMN says judge’s inquiry into Carmelo Fino disappearance from St Vincent de Paul is laying blame at the feet of nurse left alone to man ward of 34 patients and announce industrial action

Karmenu Fino, 83, was reported missing to the police after leaving the SVDP ward he was in
Karmenu Fino, 83, was reported missing to the police after leaving the SVDP ward he was in

Malta’s nursing union MUMN is on the warpath after an inquiry into the disappearance of an elderly man, Carmelo Fino, from a St Vincent de Paul ward at night, is blaming the single nurse on night-duty that evening.

Union boss Paul Pace said the union would resist all attempts at making the nurse on duty a sacrificial lamb, and announced industrial action in a bid to safeguard union members.

Pace said nurses will not admit new patients at SVDP and elderly homes until all wards can supply two nurses for all open wards during the night shift. He said the largest, open wards will not exceed 30 patients and must be staffed by at least three nurses during the day, and two at night.

“If criminal charges are filed against the nurse involved, MUMN will issue further industrial actions it deems fit. Such directives are with immediate effect,” Pace said.”

The union said it had only been provided with the conclusions of the report and that it was not privy to the entire report, referring to a One News report that Fino’s disappearance was “not due to a system failure and that there was sufficient staff.”

“If the report truly states that there was ‘sufficient staff’ on the night of the incident, as reported on One News, this would be a completely erroneous assertion, resulting – one would imagine – from a lack of knowledge about nursing protocols and procedures on the part of the inquiring judge,” Paul Pace said.

Pace said union officials were not interviewed by judge Geoffrey Valenzia, saying the inquiry would been shown the protocol agreed between MUMN and the government, that the ward in question should have been manned at night by two nurses, and not one.

“The fact that only one nurse was on duty on the night in question is clearly a system failure for which responsibility falls totally on the shoulders of the ministry. To make matters worse, this one nurse was a reliever, and most relievers will not know the residents of the wards. This one nurse had graduated only a few months ago with 34 patients and so the ministry and administration left this open ward with one nurse reliever with no experience at all.”

MUMN has long been clamouring about a shortage of nurses which it describes as a ‘ticking time-bomb’ for all nurses at SVDP, Mater Dei Hospital, Karin Grech Hospital, Gozo Hospital, and elderly homes.

“Whenever incidents occur, government resorts to its favourite ploy to put the blame on personnel rather than on its abject failure to ensure the necessary staffing levels according to protocol, agreements and international standards,” Pace said.

The report was said to have placed a collective blame on the ward’s night-shift complement, without distinguishing between its various personnel and categories, between the different duties and responsibilities of the personnel, and without considering that it was not the nurse’s duty to ensure each and every one of the residents were in their place during every minute of every hour of the night shift.

The nurses’ union boss Paul Pace attacked the report’s conclusions as “incredible” and “superficial”. “Clearly the shortcomings which the retired judge points out do not fall within the parameters of the nurse’s duties, but the report places a collective blame on the entire ‘night shift’,” Pace said.

He said the health ministry was patting itself on the back by taking comfort from the judge’s conclusions that the incident was not a result of system failures. “Yet at the same time, it refers to a whole list of measures which were taken after this incident occurred in order to avoid any future repetition of such an incident. A veritable contradiction in terms if ever there was one,” Pace said.

“If there were no system failures, why was there the need to take all these measures in order to change the system? Contrary to the ministry’s self-praise, the extensive measures implemented after this incident occurred, point out to the inevitable conclusion that the systems in pace at the time were poor, insufficient, and inadequate. Responsibility for such a state of affairs certainly does not lie with the personnel and certainly not with the MUMN’s member,” Pace said.

Fino had been accommodated in an open ward that allows patients to enter and leave as they please, without any locked doors. Pace questioned conflicting views about Fino’s alleged dementia, with the judge’s inquiry saying he was not suffering from dementia, while Fino’s family telling the press that Fino was unable to communicate verbally because of dementia.

“Was the ‘night shift’ also to blame for this deficiency, as the judge would appear to conclude? Why did the medical team of Mr Fino never transferred such patient to the closed ward? Why was this omitted from the report of the retired judge? The truth is that this incident could easily have been avoided had Mr Fino been placed in a closed ward; this is a decision which clearly does not fall within the remit of the nursing staff to make.”