While Veronica Nelson screamed out in pain and made distressing call after call for help, the only nurse in her Melbourne prison wing was watching a movie.

Veronica died in her cell at the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre in January 2020 after more than a dozen requests including for more anti-nausea medication after she vomited up an early dose.

Prison guards called nurse Atheana George three times during the night to ask about Veronica, but the nurse said she didn’t believe the Indigenous woman seemed that unwell.

Ms George did see Veronica once during the night, passing her medication including Panadol through a trap in the cell door.

In the few steps Veronica took walking from the bed to the door Ms George said she appeared steady on her feet, was alert and responsive.

“According to my opinion, my point of view, she was looking OK at that stage,” she said.

The inquest has previously heard from a prison guard who accompanied Ms George to Veroncia’s cell, who said she told the nurse that Veronica looked very unwell.

But Ms George denied that conversation and said it was because she had been treated so terribly by that particular guard in the past that she didn’t ask for the door to be opened to assess Veronica.

“She treated me badly… I don’t want to talk any more,” Ms George said, breaking down.

“Because of her I was so scared to ask her to open the door that day.”

Ms George said she didn’t think Veronica looked unwell enough that it was necessary for her to open the door, but also that had she not been afraid of that officer she would have asked for it to be opened.

She never told anyone she was afraid of the officer.

Ms George was called twice more during the night by another guard about Veronica but did not go to see her again.

Showed footage of herself watching a film, Ms George told the inquest she sometimes put on movies or music for background noise because it could be scary being in the nursing office alone.

But an inquest into Veronica’s death heard there is hours of footage of Ms George sitting watching the screen.

Ms George accepted that had she opened the cell door she might have seen that Veronica needed emergency medical treatment, got her to hospital and that could have saved her life.

Lawyers for Veronica’s mother Aunty Donna Nelson told Ms George they will submit that either she is lying – which she denied – or that her assessment of Veronica through the cell trap for less than a minute was “totally incompetent”.

“Maybe my assessment was not accurate but, yeah, maybe my assessment was not that accurate,” Ms George responded.

The inquest is continuing.

  • Story by Karen Sweeney, AAP