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Inappropriate relationship with patient (12HDC00027)
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(12HDC00027, 12 December
Registered nurse ~ Mental health unit ~ District health
board ~ Professional boundaries ~ Sexual exploitation ~ Rights 2,
A 19-year-old woman was admitted to a public hospital's mental
health inpatient unit. She had a history of depression and anxiety,
with episodes of self-harm and suicidal ideation. During her
two-month admission, she was nursed on a number of occasions by a
male nurse in his mid-30s.
A week prior to the young woman's discharge, she and the nurse
began communicating by text. In the fortnight following her
discharge, they met up on at least two occasions. The young woman
returned to the city in which she had been living prior to her
hospital admission. She and the nurse maintained regular
communication by text. The texts became increasingly personal and
sexual in nature. The nurse and the young woman visited one another
and the relationship became physically intimate. They had sexual
intercourse for the first time less than six weeks after the young
woman's discharge from hospital.
Six months later, the young woman told her mental health key
worker that her boyfriend had been her nurse.
It was held that the nature of the nurse's communications with
the young woman while she was still an inpatient was inappropriate.
He contacted her and met up with her within days of her discharge,
and entered into a sexual relationship with her less than six weeks
after her discharge from hospital, which was also inappropriate.
The nurse failed to comply with professional and ethical standards,
and his behaviour was sexually exploitative. Accordingly, the nurse
breached Rights 2 and 4(2). The nurse was referred to the
Director of Proceedings. The Director of Proceedings
laid a charge before the Health Practitioners Disciplinary
Tribunal. Professional misconduct was made out and the provider's
registration was cancelled.
The district health board was not vicariously liable for
the nurse's breaches of the Code. However, it was concerning that,
after the nurse had disclosed concerns about his own mental
well-being, a more formal process was not followed to respond to
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