Tribunal disqualifies nurse for two years for professional misconduct

21 Dec 2016

A tribunal has cancelled an enrolled nurse’s registration and disqualified her from re-applying for two years, after it found she engaged in professional misconduct relating to drug use.

The Health Practitioners Tribunal of South Australia (the tribunal) has reprimanded Debra Jean Highet, cancelled her registration and disqualified her from applying for registration as a nurse for two years.

Immediate action had previously been taken by the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia (NMBA) against Ms Highet in October 2013, when she had been caught by South Australian police while attempting to purchase heroin. At that time, restrictions were placed on Ms Highet’s registration, including an undertaking requiring urine screening for drugs.

The NMBA took further immediate action to suspend Ms Highet’s registration in December 2013, in relation to her failure to comply with the restrictions on her registration.

At the tribunal hearing Ms Highet admitted the factual basis alleged by the NMBA and that the following behaviour amounted to professional misconduct:

  • she provided false and misleading information to the South Australian Immediate Action Committee of the NMBA, by stating that she doesn’t have a drug dependency issue when in fact she had been on the methadone programme for 20 years and is continuing to use heroin fortnightly,
  • she breached undertakings by failing to provide urine samples on seven occasions after having been directed to do so, and
  • she tampered with urine samples by supplying a sample of urine obtained from her son, to which she added methadone to give the impression that it was her urine, that she does not use heroin and that she was compliant with the methadone programme.

The tribunal agreed with the NMBA that Ms Highet’s behaviour amounted to professional misconduct and imposed the following disciplinary sanctions:

  • reprimand,
  • cancellation of registration as a nurse effective immediately, and
  • disqualification from applying for registration as a nurse for a period of 2 years.

In its orders the tribunal included a notation recommending that the assessment of any future application for registration consider whether Ms Highet has demonstrated a 12 month period of abstinence from heroin use.  

The reasons for the decision will be published on the tribunal’s website.

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Page reviewed 21/12/2016