A judge has ruled that a male nurse who admitted placing surgical tape across a patient's mouth be given the Probation Act.

Judge Kevin Kilrane also recommended that 39-year-old Bimbo Paden not be struck off the Register of Nurses.

Judge Kilrane, who found Mr Paden was overworked in stressful conditions, said: "He does not pose any risk to patients in the future. To strike him from the register would be disproportionate."

The judge was severely critical of the conditions under which Mr Paden worked at St John's long-term care hospital in Sligo.

Kevin Quinn, 49, from Ballymote, Co Sligo, was a patient there for 13 years having suffered a brain haemorrhage.

At an earlier hearing Mr Paden, who worked at St John's for 12 years shortly after arriving in Ireland from the Philippines, admitted assaulting Mr Quinn on 26 June last year.

The court heard earlier that a Health Service Executive internal investigation found Mr Paden worked under serious stress and never complained about it.

The court also heard earlier from consultant psychiatrist Dr Patricia Noone that Mr Paden had been afraid to leave his home in Sligo town since the assault, for which he accepted full responsibility, because he feared that the community would be angry and abusive.

Judge Kilrane, delivering sentence today after considering reports, said Mr Paden was caring for nine patients with most of them in the high-dependency category.

Mr Paden was tending to another patient suffering from terminal illness and who was irritated by noise being made by Mr Quinn.

The nurse placed a tape over Mr Quinn's mouth.

Detailed investigations had shown the workload in the unit was inequitably distributed with the defendant carrying out an unduly high workload.

It was unsafe, unreasonable and there was a seriously inadequate level of staffing.

There was no evidence that Mr Quinn was harmed physically or otherwise by the assault.

The judge noted that Mr Paden was unable to contact Mr Quinn's family to express his remorse for what he had done, but he did ask the HSE to pass it on.

"It is very unfortunate the HSE did not communicate that remorse", the judge added. "That is very disappointing."

He speculated that because Mr Paden did not complain, he was lumbered with an unfair workload.

The judge said the assault was an appalling incident, but it was a one-off and totally out of character.

He said he found the facts proved, but was dismissing the charge under the Probation Act.