Cheryl Byrne, who worked as a nurse at Bundaberg Hospital for almost 40 years, is fighting a decision to force her out of her job.
Cheryl Byrne, who worked as a nurse at Bundaberg Hospital for almost 40 years, is fighting a decision to force her out of her job.

‘Drama queen’: Nurse launches bullying action

A VETERAN intensive care nurse who claims she was 'mocked' by colleagues when they left her a doll with a carving knife has launched a bullying action against Queensland Health.

Cheryl Byrne, who worked as a nurse at Bundaberg Hospital for almost 40 years, is fighting a decision to force her out of her job.

The 61-year-old alleges that it is in retaliation for her continual complaints about bullying and 'unsafe' work practices at the hospital.

She is being supported by Toni Hoffman, the nurse who blew the whistle on the Jayant Patel 'Dr Death' scandal at Bundaberg Hospital.

Ms Byrne has called in lawyers to mount an Industrial Relations Commission challenge to the Wide Bay Hospital and Health Service's decision to medically retire her.

Her lawyers, Gold Coast-based Attwood Marshall, allege that Ms Byrne suffered a torn spinal disc while working at the hospital in 2007 but there was no workplace investigation and her complaints were 'ignored or dismissed'.

She was allegedly left to work 12-hour shifts and put on a three-month waiting list to see the staff spinal surgeon.

The hospital dismissed her injury as 'entirely benign' and she was subjected to years of 'mistreatment and harassment' by colleagues, her lawyers have alleged.

This included one colleague allegedly leaving a child's doll with a 'large kitchen knife' where she would see it.

She was also allegedly forced to use a ladder to access equipment after her office was redesigned without consultation, branded a 'drama queen' and told she needed to be 'pulled into line'.

Ms Byrne was also ordered to undergo a physical fitness test 'that no-one ever passes' after complaining about safety issues including blocked fire exits and dangerous clutter in the ICU, her lawyers allege.

She was allegedly 'regularly humiliated' in front of colleagues, accused of misconduct, burdened with 'unmanageable' workloads and stripped of her role as a clinical coach while in hospital recovering from back surgery.

The health service has claimed that she is no longer able to properly do her job, including moving patients and performing CPR.

But Ms Byrne maintains that her health has improved, she is incapable only of performing cardiac compressions and should be afforded the same allowances as pregnant colleagues and given her job back.

"I haven't done anything wrong and I've been treated like a career criminal," she told The Courier-Mail.

"I loved my job but I've been forced out of it and put through the wringer."

Ms Byrne's lawyer, Charles Lethbridge, said she would give evidence to the IRC of 'systemic failures' in health standards, workplace safety and staff conduct at Bundaberg Hospital 'since the days of (rogue surgeon) Jayant Patel'.

Senior ICU nurse Toni Hoffman, who was the whistleblower at the centre of the Dr Jayant Patel case, pictured at her home in Queensland.
Senior ICU nurse Toni Hoffman, who was the whistleblower at the centre of the Dr Jayant Patel case, pictured at her home in Queensland.

Ms Hoffman, who blew the whistle on the Dr Patel scandal and worked alongside Ms Byrne for 14 years, said: "Cheryl has devoted her life to the patients of Queensland in the most difficult of circumstances and I would like to be assured that she has been treated fairly without prejudice."

Nurses Professional Association of Queensland Aenghas Hopkinson-Pearson said Ms Byrne's treatment was 'disgusting'.

"At best, it is a heartless misunderstanding of our nurse's condition, at worst, it is bullying and discrimination based on an impairment," he said.

A WBHHS spokesman said it could not comment on the specifics of the case due to confidentiality, but all employees had access to 'established HR and Return to Work support following non-work-related injury or illness', including 'independent' capacity or medical assessments.

"Regrettably, in rare cases, there will be employees who may need to be retired on the grounds of ill health under the provisions of the Public Service Act, if they are deemed unable to perform the specific duties their roles require," he said.



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