Nurses Have a Duty to Ensure Doctors Meet the Standard of Care

by John McKiggan

Nurses Duty to Ensure Appropriate Care

A recent decision from Ontario has found that nurses have a duty to ensure patients receive appropriate care from a responsible physician when faced with a medical emergency.

The court found that the duty to ensure that the patient is seen by a appropriate physician exists even when the patient has already been seen by a resident physician.

Failed to Meet Standard of Care

In Milne v. St. Joseph’s Health Centre, Justice Morissette found that an experienced obstetrical nurse and an obstetrical resident both failed to meet the standard of care expected of a reasonable nurse and physician during the birth of Anne Louise Milne’s son Jessy.

Jessy suffered catastrophic brain damage due to a premature separation of Ms. Milne’s placenta from her uterus, resulting in internal bleeding. Ms. Milne was admitted to the delivery unit of the St. Joseph’s Health Centre at 1:20 PM on August 18, 1997.

Nurse Suspected Medical Emergency

The obstetric nurse who took her vital signs and applied the fetal heart rate monitor strongly suspected that Ms. Milne had suffered a placental abruption. The nurse testified at trial that she understand that a placental abruption was a medical emergency and might require a cesarean section in order to prevent brain damage due to the lack of oxygen to the fetus.

At 2:00 PM Ms. Milne was assessed by an obstetric resident who performed an ultrasound which showed that the fetus was not breathing or moving.

Doctor Suspected Medical Emergency

The resident physician also suspected a placental abruption but neither one of them discussed their concerns with the other nor did they consider an appropriate course of action.

No One Talked to Doctor in Charge

The nurse testified that she expected the resident physician to contact the attending obstetrician in charge of Ms. Milne to determine her appropriate treatment.

Approximately 35 minutes after the resident examined Ms. Milne the obstetric nurse finally asked another physician to assess Ms. Milne. The physician immediately diagnosed Ms. Milne’s condition and ordered a emergency cesarean section.

Justice Morissette found that delivering baby Jessy even 10 minutes earlier would have prevented his severe brain damage.

Lack of Communication Can Have Catastrophic Consequences

In many hospitals nurses and physicians work in what is called a “team environment”. This case emphasizes the need for communication between team members. It also emphasizes the importance of coming up with a proposed plan of treatment with every patient.

If you or a loved one have suffered injuries that you think may be due to medical malpractice you can buy a copy of my book: The Consumer’s Guide to Medical Malpractice Claims in Canada: Why 98% of Canadian Medical Malpractice Victims Never Receive a Penny in Compensation. on Amazon.

Or you can contact me through this blog or by calling toll free in Atlantic Canada 1-888-647-7201 and we will send you a copy, free, anywhere in the Maritimes.

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