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Another Personal Grievance To Employment Court

Another employee personal grievance, likely to cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars, is heading towards the Employment Court. This time it's against West Coast SOE Coast Health Care Ltd. John Howard reports.

A nurse sacked two weeks ago from Seaview Psychiatric Hospital in Hokitika says he is unhappy with representation provided by his union, the PSA, but has vowed he will fight his dismissal with every means at his disposal. The Health Minister, Wyatt Creech, has so-far failed to respond to letters from supporters.

Paul Breeze was sacked for allegedly breaching Coast Health Care's code of conduct relating to behaviour affecting safety.

But, according to the solo-father of three teenagers, it was his views of inadequate staff levels at Seaview and a misconstrued comment that led to his dismissal.

At the heart of the issue is an allegation made by the chairperson of the local PSA, that Mr Breeze said he hoped a senior nurse would ger her faced splattered across the wall.

Mr Breeze said that was simply not true, but he did indicate that the consequences of not having enough male staff on duty could be that a nurse had her face splattered across the wall by a violent patient.

This was construed to mean that that Mr Breeze could not be relied on even though just weeks earlier he had diffused an agressive male attack on a female staff member.

Last Wednesday, since Mr Breeze was sacked, a female nurse was allegedly attacked by a violent patient and assaulted so badly that she could not remember what happened.

Mr Breeze said the allegations against him stemmed from his concern at being the only male staff member on duty at the hospital.

"In my opinion that was not a safe situation - here I was working in a unit that was annexed to it by something like 400 metres, but I was expected to stop caring for my own patients, and sprint 400 metres to the Intensive Care Unit and give assistance if something went wrong," he said.

There should also have been gender appropriate nursing - which means having male staff working in areas with male patients and female staff working where there are female patients. "That was Coast Health Care's policy but it was totally disregarded by management staff," Mr Breeze said.

"I'm only an enrolled nurse and Coast Health Care expected me to be all things to all people. It is not my position to ensure safety in those units, it is up to the people involved in doing rosters to ensure that there is adequate male staffing. The safety situation is absolutely untenable and now it has broken down, I have lost my job," he said.

Mr Breeze said another issue was that Coast Health Care had not validated his out-of-date by 18 months, Calming and Restraint certificate by providing a refresher course. "They had no right to place me in that position. I could have ended up on criminal charges myself if something went wrong," he said.

However, a refresher course for all staff was announced by Coast Health Care immediately after his dismissal.

A letter signed by Coast Health Care's chief executive, Sue Belsham, states that Mr Breeze refused to answer any questions during a meeting on November 8 leaving no option but dismissal.

But Mr Breeze said he was not asked any questions, but at any rate, he was refused acccess to his personal file and other material that could have assisted him answer any questions and help his case. He was also blocked from approaching staff who could have helped him defend the allegations.

"Coast Health Care told me that if I was to go onto the Seaview property I would be arrested," he said.

However, more than 20 staff have since provided him with letters which paints a picture of a hard-working, caring and professional nurse. They have indicated they will give evidence in any Court case. Parents of patients are also supporting him. 17 other staff have also signed a petition complaining about Coast Health Care's unsafe work environment.

"All of my supervisors at work have given me glowing reports, all of them," Mr Breeze said.

Other letters of support have come from community organisations that Mr Breeze is associated with including Search and Rescue and the Volunteer Fire Brigade.

Mr Breeze claims Coast Health Care have failed in their duty of care to both staff and patients but he has been sacked.

"I want my job back," Mr Breeze said.

Invited to respond Ms Belsham said last night "We keep a very close eye on the staff situation. I believe we have followed due process throughout this entire situation."

However, Mr Breeze said that he has been advised that Occupational Safety and Health is to commence an investigation into Coast Health Care's practices and that the Human Rights Commission may also be concerned about Equal Employment Opportunities.


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