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Patient assaulted by psychiatric nurse wins case

Maria Panteli, solicitor in the clinical negligence and human rights departments at law firm Leigh Day & Co, wins compensation for a patient.

Posted on 06 May 2006

A woman, who was under the care of a psychiatric nurse, has been awarded compensation after she was sexually and emotionally abused by him over a sustained period.

The woman concerned was referred to the psychiatric services by her GP where she was diagnosed with chronic anxiety disorder with depression. She was to be treated by a community psychiatric nurse (CPN) with anxiety management exercises. These initial sessions took place fortnightly at her doctor's surgery, but after about six months the sessions moved to her home and it was during these visits that the sexual assaults happened.


During their sessions the patient revealed that her psychiatric problems had been complicated by previous incidences of abuse as a child and by an employer. This left her open to the phenomenon of “re-victimisation”, where an abuser picks out someone who is least likely to be able to resist abuse because of their previous experiences. 

The patient's condition began to deteriorate.  She suffered further paranoid and self-harming periods and tried to commit suicide on a couple of occasions by taking overdoses. She was detained under the Mental Health Act.

Hospital Trust

The hospital Trust responsible for the CPN are vicariously liable for his breach of duty of care as an employer is responsible for the actions of its employees. Their patient should have been treated with reasonable professional care and skill and the nurse should not have entered into a sexual and intimate relationship with a patient.

By having to conceal the relationship not only to her family but also to other health professionals, the relationship had a drastic effect on her mental health. Instead of showing the normal signs of recovery, her health deteriorated.

Vulnerable patients

The power differential between a healthcare professional and a vulnerable psychiatric patient is so great that any sexual contact between them cannot be a mutual act. The patient cannot give properly informed consent and the situation is enormously destructive. The patient was left confused, fearful and she still feels a great deal of shame about the incidents and her inability to stop them happening. 

Legal proceedings against the hospital Trust were started and a significant level of compensation was paid. Perhaps more importantly for the patient though was an apology from the Trust for the level of care she received.

The patient was represented by Maria Panteli, clinical negligence solicitor at Leigh Day & Co.  If you have been affected by such an incident, please call Maria Panteli on 020 7650 1200.

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