A longer version of this article was first published by New Matilda.
Jenny Haines, Former General Secretary of the NSW Nurses Association, writes:
Walter Marsh has been convicted of the murder of Sydney nurse Michelle Beets. But there are still many questions in my mind about this case and they go to the heart of the way in which health services were, and probably still are, managed.
Why was Michelle seen by Walter Marsh as solely responsible for his employment? Why did he see her as the person who was blocking him getting future employment?
In times past, these employment tasks were managed by the Human Resources Departments of Area Health Services. In more recent years, restructuring of health services and management roles meant that employment roles were devolved to busy Nursing Unit Managers.
I can only imagine how busy and stressful Michelle’s life as a Nursing Unit Manager must have been. There would not have been a lot of spare time to manage all the details of employing new staff, and ending their employment when they left, or were dismissed, without much needed support from the Human Resources Department.
When Michelle wanted Walter Marsh dismissed, why was that not handed over to managers in the Human Resources Department, depersonalising the matter away from Michelle?
It seems there were serious issues in relation to Walter Marsh’s registration. One reason he apparently feared being sent back to the United States was that he would not be able to register as a nurse having lost his registration there prior to coming to Australia. A Nursing Unit Manager can look up a nurse’s registration status in Australia online but if there are problems with a nurses registration overseas, surely that responsibility remains with the registering authorities?
A busy Nursing Unit Manager should not be expected to be contacting the United States to follow up on the registration status of an employment applicant.
And if Walter Marsh was a threat to Michelle, and she knew it, and she had raised this with the Hospital, what had been done by Security Services at the Hospital to protect Michelle?
I have heard evidence from Michelle’s close friends that she had expressed concern for her safety. No one could have anticipated what happened.
But for a Nursing Unit Manager carrying such a heavy responsibility on behalf of the Area Health Service to be exposed to such risks raises all sorts of questions about the duty of care of that Area Health Service to its managers and staff.
All sorts of clever ideas have been introduced into the health system over the last 30 years to downsize departments, and make them more cost efficient. Very rarely it seems, are questions raised about the occupational health and safety implications of these measures.
Very rarely it seems, are senior managers brought to account for their duty of care to their staff.
But until there is a consciousness that all in the health system is not just about budget, the potential remains for such tragedies to occur again.
• Jenny Haines was General Secretary of the NSW Nurses Association from 1982-7.