The BC Nurses' Union is expressing grave concerns for its members' professional autonomy following a Saskatchewan court decision this week that saw a nurse lose an appeal after she was fined for speaking out about her grandfather's care.
On April 11 a Saskatoon Court of Queen's Bench judge dismissed an appeal by registered nurse Carolyn Strom, who was found guilty of professional misconduct after making a Facebook post about the conditions of her grandfather's palliative care. Strom was fined $26,000 by the Saskatchewan Registered Nurses' Association (SRNA) following her actions.
BCNU Acting President Christine Sorensen says the case should raise many concerns for BC nurses. "Nurses and other health-care professionals are aware of the high professional standards to which they are held. And every day, nurses exercise discretion and good judgment while attending to those in their care," says Sorensen, who argues that regulatory colleges must also be sensitive to nurses' professional autonomy and judgement, and the advocacy role that is fundamental to the profession.
"Care conditions and working conditions go hand-in hand," says Sorensen. "It's important for nurses to be able to effectively advocate for their patients, and this often involves reaching out to elected officials and members of the public about the condition of our health-care system."
BCNU's concerns are echoed by nurses across the country, who worry this decision will contribute to the silencing of nurses as individuals and health professionals. "Advocating for our loved ones and our communities is a basic right all Canadians should have, including Canada's nurses," said Canadian Federation of Nurses Union President Linda Silas. "Regulatory bodies such as the SRNA must not be empowered to prevent nurses from speaking up as individuals."
Sorensen warns that the ruling could cast a chill on nurses' willingness to flag serious care issues. "It would be unfortunate if nurses begin worrying about running afoul of their regulatory college as a result of the SRNA's charge of professional misconduct against Strom."
Sorensen reminds nurses that BCNU's Licensing Education Advocacy and Practice (LEAP) program is in place to support them if they face disciplinary action from regulatory colleges regarding complaints of unprofessional and unethical conduct. This would include complaints stemming from members who have posted information on social media.
Strom's lawyer says she plans to appeal.
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