When RCN member Sheila Salmon acted to stop a distressed service user from harming herself or others with a fork on an understaffed lunch shift, she never thought it would lead to her losing a job she loved.
She had been working at a hospital for people with learning disabilities and mental health needs at the time. Even when, one month later, she was unexpectedly called into work before the start of her night shift, she had no inkling she was about to be suspended.
Sheila, an experienced health care assistant, was dismissed in July 2013 following the incident at Croxton Lodge in Leicestershire in which she and a colleague restrained the service user, who was later found to have sustained an arm injury.
She recalls: "I couldn’t believe it. The shift was unsafe because we didn’t have enough staff. I hadn’t initiated the restraint as I was looking after another client but I helped to hold her for everybody’s safety.
"The log of the incident said minimal and appropriate restraint was used, yet at the disciplinary hearing they said I hadn’t used the proper restraint technique. Sally, my RCN rep, said she had never seen a dismissal on such flimsy evidence but the letter they sent me said they no longer had any trust and confidence in me. That hurt the most."
Now, thanks to the RCN’s support and legal representation, Sheila has been awarded £19,040 in compensation for unfair dismissal. An internal panel heard Sheila’s appeal against her dismissal in September 2013 and found she should not have been sacked – meaning, in law, she should have been automatically reinstated.
But her employer, which had taken over the running of the hospital after the previous owners went into administration, did not inform her.
"They thought I would go away," says Sheila.
RCN lawyers uncovered further evidence showing her employer had deliberately withheld the outcome of her appeal, presenting it to an Employment Tribunal in May 2014 which ruled in Sheila’s favour.
Even so, the lawyers then had to appeal to the Employment Appeal Tribunal to make her employer liable for paying compensation because the previous owner’s insolvency meant Sheila would otherwise only receive a basic award from the Government’s National Insurance Fund. The appeal was successful.
Sheila, who worked at Croxton Lodge for seven years, says: "If they had offered me my job back, I’d have taken it. I just wanted someone to say ‘thank you’ for trying to make sure no one was injured.
"I didn’t want to have to look for another job at 58 and struggled to get work in care. I had to tell the truth in my applications and say I had been dismissed but that I had appealed. I only had one reply and that was a no."
After a period working as a cleaner, Sheila has now got a job in a care home and remains ever glad that she became an RCN member.
"The RCN has been brilliant," she says.
"They told me not to worry and made sure I understood everything that was happening with my case. They left no stone unturned."