Nurse sacked for using Altnagelvin Hospital inhaler has verdict quashed

Caroline Connolly was sacked as a staff nurse at Londonderry's Altnagelvin Hospital in 2013
Caroline Connolly was sacked as a staff nurse at Londonderry's Altnagelvin Hospital in 2013

A nurse sacked over the use of a hospital inhaler during a suspected asthma attack has won her renewed legal battle against the misconduct finding.

The Court of Appeal quashed a second industrial tribunal’s decision that Caroline Connolly had been fairly dismissed.

In a majority verdict, senior judges identified flaws in the disciplinary process surrounding her actions at Londonderry’s Altnagelvin Hospital.

Lord Justice Deeny insisted a ‘first offence’ must be particularly serious to warrant dismissal.

He said: “This is one of those cases where the conclusion reached by the tribunal was plainly wrong and one that no reasonable tribunal ought to have arrived at.”

With the option of ordering a further hearing of her grievance regarded as inappropriate, the parties are to be given time to consider a possible remedy.

Ms Connolly, 34, was dismissed from her position as a staff nurse in June 2013 for gross misconduct by unauthorised use or removal of property.

The Court of Appeal heard she claims to have felt the onset of an asthma attack while on duty the previous October.

Having left her own inhaler in the car, she lifted one from a medicine room and took about five puffs before leaving it sitting on a desk, according to her account.

On disclosing her actions to another senior nurse two days later the incident was reported to an emergency care and medicine coordinator.

Ms Connolly was suspended pending an investigation into concerns which also involved an alleged argument with a colleague.

She was summarily dismissed following a disciplinary hearing which focused on the charge of removing the inhaler from ward stock for her own use.

A letter informing her of the outcome stated that from her response to questions “it was clear that you were not suffering from a full-blown acute asthma attack”.

An appeal panel backed the finding that her conduct constituted gross misconduct.

Her case against the Western Health and Social Services Board was upheld by an initial industrial tribunal before being set aside by the Court of Appeal for the first time in February 2016.

The nurse renewed her legal challenge after a second tribunal upheld the misconduct finding.

In its latest ruling, the court found that her terms of employment did not seem to prohibit taking puffs of the inhaler when undergoing an asthmatic attack without permission.