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Relationships with patients' partners - where do you draw the line?


Beyond the Bedpan is appalled at the coverage of a cancer nurse being investigated for ‘inappropriate’ relationships with the partners of former patients. It’s an uncomfortable subject that raises some serious personal and professional questions. What do you think?

We all know the media loves a scandal, especially one involving sex and death. And definitely one involving sex, death and nurses. But Beyond the Bedpan can’t help but feel sorry for Sara Dale, a ‘shamed’ Macmillan cancer nurse who ‘cared for cancer-stricken wives - then bedded their husbands after they died’.

But don’t take the Sun’s word for it. The Mail took an equally sensitive line: ‘To the hundreds of terminally-ill patients she cared for, Sara Dale was a guardian angel providing advice and support… but she had relationships with three grieving widowers after their wives or partners died.’

You can picture the scene now - Nurse Dale prancing around in skimpy clothes, making eyes at vulnerable husbands while their terminally ill wives lay helpless. When the inevitable tragedy ocurred, she probably didn’t wait for the ink on the paperwork to dry before diving between the sheets with the grieving widowers.

Fair? Of course not. But why let one nurse’s reputation stand in the way of a good story? Armed with the simple sword of insinuation, the brave tabloid reporters have done their best to burden the public with yet more negative perceptions of the nursing profession.

The allegations against Miss Dale - made via an anonymous letter to her employers - claimed she had begun relationships with the former boyfriends and husbands of three women who had died from cancer.

An NMC investigation is pending. But some of the less salacious details of the ‘scandal’ are worth noting. There is no question that Miss Dale was a competent and caring nurse, or that any of the relationships started while the partners were still alive.

She is also keen to point out that she had two relationships, not three, and they were far from the sordid little affairs the headlines would have us believe. The first lasted ten years, while the second is with Miss Dale’s current long-term partner.

Is it wrong to suggest that the relationship between a nurse and a grieving relative would be a close one, and that such shared experience might sow the seeds for later friendship? Assuming that no professional protocols were broken, and that the interests of patients and relatives were respected, is there really a story here?

What do you think about this issue?

Where should the boundaries between nurses’ personal and professional lives be drawn? Have your say in the comments section below this article.


Readers' comments (27)

  • I don't understand why a nurse woild do such a thing

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  • Oh for crying out loud, please get a grip (above with your silly comment) - is this news? Or mud-slinging, yet again?

    What has the NMC got to do with the personal life and affairs of nurses? And which jealous 'friend' of Ms Dale's sent that letter? Someone she's fallen out with recently, perhaps?

    This sounds like a case of sour grapes and my guess is, it will turn out to be one of her so-called friends who is also a nurse.

    I think we as a British culture need to start understanding that yes there is professionalism in what we do as nurses, but there are also living human beings who value us when they are going through the lowest periods of their lives, whether it's grieving or illness. So Ms Dale ended up in a long-standing relationship with a widower, so what?

    I know of a case where a colleague of mine ended up marrying the son of woman she nursed, who did die? Should she also be hauled up before the NMC for being innappropriate?

    Perhaps we need to focus on more important things like the future of nursing and where we are going than tittle tattle courtesy of unintelligent papers such as the sun and the daily mirror!

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  • I ended up marrying a patient of mine who I saw weeks later in a singles club. We divorced after a few years as he became abusive but I had my lovely daughter from the union. A couple of my student nurse friends also met their their partners while nursing them. How people meet doesn't make them into predatory nurses you can't help who you fall in love with things just happen. Look how many office bosses end up with their secretaries!

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  • there are some areas you just do not go to, why because as in all walks of life not just nursing you put your self in a compromised position that reflects badly on the profession you are in and do we reallly want the public/families or any one else for that matter to think we are all after a relationship with their partners and dont say it doesnt rub off what about the beverley allit story the sick jokes are still going round
    im not juding her but surely even this nurse could see she was dealing with very vunerable people that needed her support and tust

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  • This lady had two long term relationships, one lasting longer than the marriages of several of my colleagues my colleagues. why are we judging how she met these men, had there been no attraction nothing would have happened or lasted. Both the lady in question and the gentlemen have benefited from the relationships,. How dare the press put themselves in the position of being moral guardians when all they want is to sell papers. We are human beings with feelings, and it is that which makes us so good at being caring and empathetic professionals. Please let our private lives be just that, we are not movie stars we have not signed up for such unwarrented slander

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  • In response to the comment above, you say that the nurse should have been able to see that she was dealing with people that needed support and trust.....well im sure as a professional she knew this and there is no question that the nurse did not provide that to the family at the time. The fact that she has had two relationships with partners of patients she cared for makes her no less trustworthy or supportive than the next nurse. The fact that this nurse has had relationships with these men should have no reflection on her ability to be a good nurse, if all professions were judged on the way they behaved in their private lives there would be a great deal of the population currently under investigation by their employers.
    I know several nurses who met partners whilst working, it is bound to happen as many people meet through work.... what makes nursing any different? It is unrealistic to expect human beings to be in 24 hour professional mode, and after the death or discharge of a patient our role as a professional caring for the family decreases. This nurse has had two long standing relationships with partners of deceased patients, it does not suggest to us that she randomly jumped in between the sheets with every grieving husband, and it certainly does not tell us that she was an incompetent, uncaring or unprofessional nurse whilst caring for her patients. THESE are the sort of nurses that we should be spending our time investigating..... and leave the ones that have a normal happy life outside working hours alone.

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  • at the end of the day if she has had relationships with these widowed men she has given them a sense of purpose and something to live for again. i feel she nursed her patients very professionally and became very good friends with the patients relatives. i am sure the wifes of the widowed husbands would have been happy to know that their husbands are happy again as most patients tend to wish for there partners to get on with their lives once they have gone.

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  • Before studying nursing I completed a two year psychology diploma. During the counselling and therapuetic part of this diploma we examined the relationship between a therapist and client, and the effects of transference and counter-transference (where either the client of the therapist can form feelings for the other party through the therapuetic process and relationship). I feel that this can happen in any form of therapeutic relationship - including nursing and medicine. Whilst I feel it is wrong to engage in any kind of romantic or sexual relationship with a person whilst they are a patient of ours, I am not aware of any guidelines preventing such a relationship to develop once that person is no longer a patient. Personally, I would be very wary about engaging in any form of romantic or sexual relationship with a person whom was a patient or a previous patient of mine.

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  • At the end of the day these men were not this Nurses patients, nor did she start any relationship whilst the patients were under her care.

    Why the hell was she sacked because of this? I suspect it is as a result of one or more spiteful, bitchy colleagues, (an all too common occurence in Nursing). And what the hell do the media and the NMC think they are doing sticking their noses in? It is none of their damn business what she does OUTSIDE of work!

    Unfortunately I fear this will become yet another story of witch hunting by the NMC.

    But the more serious overtones of this deserve mentioning, exactly where do our so called 'regulators' draw the line? Are we not allowed a private life? Are we not allowed a life away from the wards? Are we expected to lock ourselves away in an abstinence cupboard when we go home? This is a very serious and potentially career ruining stance the NMC takes and it is about time we all stood up and told them to keep their damn noses out!

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  • Here we go again yet another excellent nurse sacked for so called carrying on with patients husbands Ive never heard such crap.The relationship progressed after the patient had died and she had only two long term relationships not one night stands.The nhs is desperate for nurses and someone can be sacked for this!We do all have a life outside of nursing despite what the NMC thinks and if she has been some comfort to these bereaved relatives then good on her. It is now becoming "silly" working in the NHS We wont be able to breathe without permission in a bit.Let me get out of here quick!!!!!

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