Nurse appeal fails in baby death case

Göta Court of Appeal in Jönköping has increased the sentence handed down to the nurse held responsible for the death of a baby at a Kalmar hospital in May 2002. The three month old girl was given a drug overdose and died of poisoning.

The nurse was originally convicted of causing a death in December 2003 by the Kalmar District Court. Now the Court of Appeal has upheld that decision and additionally fined her the equivalent of fifty days’ pay. The harsher sentence was called for by prosecutor Carina Maxson.

The tragedy occurred when the baby girl was being treated for muscle spasms. The nurse used the wrong concentration of an antispasmodic drip solution. It was ten times higher than the one she intended to use.

The nurse appealed against her conviction on the grounds that she had not been negligent according to the law. She also claimed that the hospital’s inadequate procedures had contributed to the error.

An additional objection was that the police investigation was set in motion before the National Board of Health and Welfare had had the chance to look at the sequence of events. From the outset, all attention had been focused on the nurse.

The nurse’s lawyer, Sture Larsson, found the verdict surprising, but hasn’t given up:

“I think the verdict is harsh. The Court of Appeal found quite serious short-comings in the management of medication at this hospital and yet still they convict the nurse… We intend taking the case to the Supreme Court. We need a test case to find out when negligence becomes criminal.”

Vårdförbundet, the nursing union, also expressed disappointment at the outcome. They also believe the hospital had failings which were partly to blame for the accident and that the nurse has been made a scapegoat. They don’t believe the case should have come before a criminal court in the first place, but that it should have been dealt with by the health service’s complaints and disciplinary apparatus.

“It’s also disappointing from a patient safety perspective,” said Vårdförbundet lawyer, Carita Fallström. “We risk ending up with a more silent health service, where staff don’t mention mistakes or failings for fear of being prosecuted for a crime.”

Sources: Aftonbladet, Göteborgs Posten