A former staff nurse at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) was jailed 12 months on Monday (Apr 18), after he pleaded guilty to assaulting a 56-year-old patient, who suffered rib fractures as a result.
Aung Phyo Thu, a 26-year-old Myanmar national, admitted to punching the victim’s back, head and ribs multiple times, also covering the victim’s head with a blanket and pinning him down before beating him at around 6am on Feb 17 last year. He did so after the patient caused a commotion by trying to get out of bed while strapped to it, the court heard.
The victim is a long-term patient of IMH, suffering from schizophrenia and a host of other illnesses. His injuries were discovered by the ward supervisor. Thu, who was on duty at the time, told the supervisor the victim’s injuries had been “self-inflicted”.
The patient was eventually examined by doctors, who confirmed he had suffered from two rib fractures, in addition to some bruising.
VICTIM WAS RESTRAINED, DEFENCELESS: DPP
Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Ma Hanfeng urged the court to sentence Thu to at least 12 months in jail, citing the “abuse of trust reposed in him as a staff nurse of IMH”.
DPP Ma said the "vicious" assault was made all the more egregious by the fact that the victim was mentally ill and "defenceless" being strapped to the bed. He also noted that the patient, who suffers from diabetes, mixed connective tissue disease and has a history of seizures, is “completely reliant” on the nurses for his daily needs.
VICTIM CLASSIFIED AS ‘DANGEROUS’ PATIENT: DEFENCE
Thu’s lawyer Kalidass Murugaiyan told the court the patient had been restrained because he had been classified as “dangerous and aggressive”, for past behavior towards staff and other patients.
The patient had managed to edge his way to the bed of another patient, and Thu knowing the man’s “propensity towards violence”, thought he was about to attack another patient, his lawyer said.
The lawyer noted that 40 patients had been left in Thu’s care that morning. Although there was another attendant on shift with Thu, he had been occupied preparing breakfast for the patients.
Mr Kalidass said there should have been at least three to four other nurses on shift with Thu, adding that the Myanmar national had previously voiced concerns of being “saddled with the gargantuan task” of caring for 40 patients with little help to IMH’s management.
In pressing the court to sentence Thu to nine months’ jail, Mr Kalidass said the assault was not premeditated but a momentary lapse of self-control. He also said Thu stands to be "punished twice over". IMH is seeking S$80,000 in damages, as Thu will no longer be able to complete the six-year bond with the Institute. He had given up studying Medicine in Myanmar to come to Singapore in 2009 on an IMH scholarship to study nursing at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Mr Kalidass told the court.
For causing grievous hurt to the victim, Aung could have been jailed up to 10 years as well as fined and caned.