Nurses and nursing aides have been found guilty of causing the death of John Darmanin, 64, who choked in his food, after being left to eat unsupervised.
The case dates back to the 7th of March 2012, when nurse David Sant and nursing aide Carol Bonnici were entrusted with Darmanin’s care – and that of five other patients, who were split in two separate rooms in Karin Grech hospital.
The court heard how Darmanin had suffered a stroke two months prior, which had impaired his ability to eat. In fact he was only allowed to eat pulverised food under supervision. He was also suffering with dementia, and would frequently try to leave the ward or undress to naked.
The Court heard that at the time of the incident, Sant was out on break while Bonnici was in another room feeding a patient who required more attention than Darmanin. The two other workers were carrying out other duties.
Bonnici testified to the effect that she had started to feed a patient, who also required an oxygen supply, because Darmanin’s food had not yet been brought to his room. She said that after about 20 minutes she went to Darmanin’s room, found his bed empty and saw a plate with a piece of chicken which had been bitten into.
A search was carried out with the help of Supervisor Maria Bondin and Darmanin was found unconscious inside the toilet. Although given CPR by the doctor Darmanin did not recover and was certified dead. The doctor who testified said that food had been recovered from Darmanin’s mouth.
Sant testified that he was supervising a student nurse, and that before taking his break he had seen the plate some distance away from Darmanin, so he assumed that he had already eaten. He had left his patient in the care of another nurse but had told her that his patient was “okay”. On returning from his break Darmanin had already been found dead.
The court, presided over by Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech, concluded that both Sant and Bonnici had failed in their respective duties and had neglected to look after Darmanin at lunchtime.
However, the Court also noted that both workers were dedicated to their work and had even reported to work earlier than necessary that day. The Court also noted that the negligence had not been capricious but was a result of other commitments and duties.
The Court therefore felt that in the circumstances a custodial sentence would be inappropriate and instead issued fines: Sant was fined € 7,000 and Bonnici € 4,000.
The prosecution was led by Superintendent Geoffrey Azzopardi. Lawyers Stephen Tonna Lowell, Dr Michael Sciriha and Kris Scicluna led the defense team. Dr Stefano Filletti appeared parte civile, for the deceased’s wife.