UK nurses' union: Let nurses with dementia work as long as they're able

May 18, 2017 | Print  |

Nurses diagnosed with dementia should be able to continue working as long as they are able, a nursing union in the United Kingdom said during its annual meeting Monday.


The Royal College of Nursing is the U.K.'s largest union and professional body for nursing staff with more than 435,000 members who are registered nurses, midwives, healthcare assistants and nursing students.

The RCN passed a resolution at its annual meeting with a "clear majority" that said nurses with dementia should be able to keep their jobs as long as they aren't making "critical decisions" or performing tasks like drug measurement, according to The Telegraph.

The nurse who brought the resolution forward said reasonable adjustments could be made to allow nurses with dementia to continue working, the BBC reported.

Currently in the U.K, rules state nurses need to be able to provide "safe and effective practice" and need to take "all reasonable personal precautions" to avoid causing risk to the public, The Telegraph reported.

Though the resolution passed, it was not without controversy. As one nurse from London said, "If I have dementia and try to do my job, how am I ensuring patient safety?" according to the BBC.

Further, one safety advocate group spokesperson told The Telegraph, "This motion is frightening and quite extraordinary. … I would be worried that they may give me the wrong medication or forget how to perform a life-saving procedure. They could kill someone."

In the U.S., the Americans with Disabilities Act protects people with a disability (defined as "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment") from discrimination in all areas of public life, including employment. Employers need to make reasonable accommodations for disabled employees.

In terms of a nurse with dementia in the U.S., the ADA may protect his or her employment and the nurse can work with the employer to make reasonable accommodations that allow the nurse to continue working, according to Carolyn Buppert, MSN, a healthcare attorney. She wrote a piece for Medscape in 2014 on nurses with mental illnesses.

However, if a nurse is severely disabled and accommodations would be a hardship for the employer, "then the nurse should be evaluated for disability and go through the process of becoming eligible for disability benefits," Ms. Buppert wrote.

Raphael Katz, a partner with Sadowski Katz law firm, tells Becker's, "Disabilities are protected here under federal law … but that doesn't mean that [federal law] would protect a situation [with a nurse] with dementia."

He points to a 2015 decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. A physician was fired from a hospital for short-term memory issues, then sued under the ADA claiming the hospital "failed to engage him in an interactive process to find reasonable accommodations that would permit him to continue his employment."

The court sided with the employer, saying the physician "failed to create an issue of fact as to whether he was able to perform the essential functions of his job with or without reasonable accommodation."

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