Field J, Pearson A. International Journal of Nursing Practice 2010; 16: 301–309 Caring to death: The murder of patients by nurses

Beyond the initial ‘shock-horror’ reaction in the mass media, little attention is paid by nurses or the public to nurses who murder patients. This study used discursive inquiry to uncover social constructions of this phenomenon and their implications for the definition and treatment of such murders. The mass media and professional literature were searched for commentary on cases of nurses who had been convicted of murder between 1980 and 2006. The retrieved texts were subjected to discursive analysis. Discursive constructions included the profile of murderous nurses; types of murders; contexts in which murder occurs; factors that aid detection and apprehension; legal processes and punishment; and reactions of the public, profession, regulators and families. The findings imply that murder of a patient by a nurse might occur in any setting in which nurses care for vulnerable patients—the old, the young, the sick and the disabled. Trust in nurses assists a nurse to murder. Nurses have a responsibility to understand how their workplaces can form crucibles in which murder can take place. The profession needs to acknowledge the possibility of nurses who murder patients and to commence a discussion about what might be done to limit the harm they do.