There have been discussions for many years regarding what to do if a nurse is harmed by a patient. In the case of patients that have dementia or other illness/injury that prevents them from being able to understand or control their actions, the nurse has little recourse. Working with these types of patients has hazards and nurses are expected to understand this. Employers try to protect their nurses in most situations, but in the end, when dealing with mentally challenged, ill, or injured patients, an injury is not deliberate in the sense of a criminal act.
However there are situations where a nurse can (or has been) be injured by a patient that fully intended to harm the nurse. Many patients have an illusion that they are protected from criminal charges because they are ‘patients’. This is just not true.
Nurses have the same legal rights as any other person that is attacked and harmed or even threatened by another person. If a patient has full mental capacity – they can be criminally charged for harming or threatening to harm a nurse. Being a nurse does not mean that you are a target, nor should you allow yourself to be.
Some employers discourage their nurses from pressing criminal charges and some may even fire a nurse. Though they cannot legally fire a nurse for pressing criminal charges against a patient that has harmed them, there are nurses that relate stories of their employers finding ‘other’ reasons to fire them. This is a sad practice, but some employers care more about making money from ‘paying customers’ than the well being of their employees.
Other employers will help their nurses if an attack has occurred by a patient that does not have a mental reason for losing self control. These employers include behavior terms in their terms of service, if a patient attacks any staff, including nurses that are providing essential care, the employer will help the nurse press criminal charges.
While there are hazards in nursing, bodily harm from mentally capable individuals should never be one. Even if an employer discourages legal action, it is important to pursue justice when a patient causes harm or issues threats. Just one nurse can ensure that other nurses are not harmed or that their pursuit of justice is recorded for others that may be harmed in the future.