Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Nurse 'unfairly dismissed' for joke


A 34-year-old nurse sacked for cracking a joke while trying to restrain a patient having an epileptic fit was unfairly dismissed, the appeal court has ruled.

Laura Bowater was on her way out of the door after a 12-hour shift at Central Middlesex Hospital’s A&E department in July 2006 when she stopped to help staff restrain the “extremely strong” 31-year-old man. The patient’s trousers had been removed so he could be given an injection in the buttocks.

Ms Bowater had sat on his ankles in an effort to keep his legs still but the patient flipped on to his back, kicking the nurse forward so that she ended up straddling him. When it happened, she quipped: “It’s been a few months since I have been in this position with a man underneath me.”

The judges ruled that many people would have found the senior staff nurse’s comment “merely humorous” and that bosses had no need to sack her for it. A complaint about her joke was not made until six weeks later, despite the fact that the patient was unconscious at the time the remark was made.

Ms Bowater, who had four years’ unblemished service at the hospital, was eventually sacked from her £25,000-a-year job for “gross misconduct”.

A Watford employment tribunal panel backed Ms Bowater’s claim of unfair dismissal but her bosses at North West London Hospitals NHS trust successfully challenged this at the employment appeal tribunal.

The appeal court’s Lord Justice Burnton overturned the last decision and ruled in favour of Ms Bowater, who he says was only 25% responsible for the sacking.

The Watford Employment Tribunal panel will now decide on how much compensation the nurse should be paid.

Do you want your voice to be heard? Make a difference today and sign our ‘seat on the board’ petition to get nurses actively involved in the new commissioning consortia.


Readers' comments (10)

  • Even though her comment was in bad taste, she should have had a warning not be sacked straight away. Nurses get such a bad rap and this has to change as there are many out there who enjoy their job and are very good at it.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • The joke was distasteful and wrong and the nurse should have had a warning in the first instance. It seems sacking an otherwise good nurse would put a blemish on her career and was totally unnecessary and a serious waste of human resources. If the health services who treat their staff badly will get a bad reputaiton as employers which does nto help recruitment and retention of staff or create a climate of trust between employers and managers and their employees.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • It is sad this nurse was sack because of her sense of humour strange that someone decided to make a complaint six weeks later yet did not appreciate this nurse who had just finished a 12 hour shift stopped to help this said person or persons with a patient who was difficult at the time due to they illness. This nurse ended up in an embaressing situation and used humour to resolve it. Could not the Trust just have given her a warning personally I do not think this incident should have gone this far bearing in mind it did not affect the patient. This is a sad situation and I am glad it was found she was unfairly dismissed.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • jokes made at the expense of others and, especially patients, and made by a health care professional are totally inappropiate and have absolutely nothing to do with a sense of humour. Although the case should have been investigated before considering the necessity of dismissal, the culture of such attitudes which go against the professional nursing ethical code of conduct should be stamped out immediately. Professionals should know where the limits lie and sensitive enough to realise what may be deemed offensive to others and especially to patients in their care. Such remarks do no give the profession the good name it is fighting for.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • 'stamped out immediately'? that sounds quite brutal reading that.
    I agree it was utterly inappropriate and unprofessional, and had it been an ongoing issue measure were certainly needed. I understood there was a disciplinary process to be gone through not an absolutist response with no redress.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Apart from this joke in bad taste and unprofessional behaviour, my question is why was the nurse sitting on a patient's ankles to restrain him? It sounds as though this was a potential danger for all concerned. Was there an infringement of the patient's rights in this case, and did the staff have the right to physically restrain him in this or any other way?

    If not what other options and alternatives could have been available to them?

    I realise that this was on the spur of the moment and in what may have been a very busy department and would be interested in learning what the guidelines in A&E in the NHS recommend under these circumstances. Is there a specific answer to this or are the staff free to act as they think fit according to the circumstances?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • I agree with anon at 00.30
    I am guessing that this is not the whole story because it seems too incredulous for words...!
    I would say to anon at 11.03 that
    most jokes are made at the expense of others...this particular patient was unconcious so was not offended by the joke.... and joke it was, let's not lose sight of that.
    I would say to anon at 4.31 ..get real.. this was an 'extremely strong patient' who needed restraining for his safety and possibly those around him. As nurses we dont embark on restraining patients for fun, only if there is a danger to the safety of the individual.
    At least common sense prevailed in the end but at what cost? both financially and psycologically?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • "...most jokes are made at the expense of others...this particular patient was unconcious so was not offended by the joke.... and joke it was, let's not lose sight of that.2

    good lord, that is even more reason to respect the patient. it is the equivalent of making jokes at peoples expense behind their backs, only this time it was in the presence of the patient even though he may have been unconscious. besides it is unknown what unconscious patients actually hear.

    If the patient above was extremely strong why was the nurse attempting to restrain him by sitting on him. This does not seem to bear much relation to commonsense.
    Nurses are expected to act professionally and have a code of ethical conduct to guide them.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • I dont think the joke was intended to offend the patient....this was a joke at the nurses expenses... if the complaint has come from the patient (we dont know) then maybe that is a different matter but
    lets not take this out of proportion
    lets not lose our sense of humour
    lets keep it in the context of the event
    as far as we can see no harm was done to the patient by the joke or the restraining.
    I beleive she went to the aid of her colleagues and she was trying to restrain him so that medical treatment could be given.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • I would always tell my junior college to stay away from the bits that bite or kick !

    1.If this patient was having a siezure then then restraining him was unwise and potentially dangerous both for the patient and staff.

    2.It would seem that training in the safe use of restraint is required this department ------sitting on a patient is not safe restraint.

    3.I would also suggest a review of the treatment protocol is needed ---------"injections in the buttock"
    dont form part of any protocol concerning the treatment of seizures.

    4. Judgments about epilepsy should be tempered by knowlede of possible differential diagnoses ie
    ?Hypoxic injury
    ?Subarachnoid hemorrhage
    ?Toxicologic etiology (eg, cocaine, theophylline, isoniazid, alcohol withdrawal)
    ?Electrolyte abnormalities (eg, hyponatremia, hypernatremia, hypercalcemia, hepatic encephalopathy)
    ?Infectious etiology (eg, meningitis, brain abscess, encephalitis)
    ?A variety of toxins, notably sympathomimetics, may precipitate status epilepticus
    ?Isoniazid (INH) may cause seizures and is unique in having a specific antidote, pyridoxine (B-6).

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.