Tribunal reprimands nurse for professional misconduct

08 Feb 2018

A tribunal has reprimanded a nurse and imposed conditions on his registration for engaging in a personal and sexual relationship with a patient. 

The Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (the tribunal) reprimanded Mr Philip Evans, and imposed conditions on his registration requiring him to undertake psychological counseling for a period of 12 months.

The Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia (NMBA) referred Mr Evans to the tribunal, alleging that he had engaged in an inappropriate personal and sexual relationship with a patient he met while working as a mental health nurse.

It was also alleged that the practitioner had deliberately misled, or attempted to mislead and/or provided false responses to Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) officers during the investigation of the practitioner’s conduct.

Mr Evans admitted these allegations and conceded that his conduct amounted to professional misconduct, although some factual matters remained in dispute. Mr Evans contended that a mitigating factor in this case was the contribution of his then undiagnosed mental illness.

The tribunal considered evidence from a psychologist that Mr Evans was suffering mental health issues including chronic post traumatic stress disorder in the years leading up to and following his wife’s death. It was the opinion of the psychologist that Mr Evans had experienced countertransference for the patient, and his level of judgement and insight may have been impaired.

The tribunal also heard evidence from a psychiatrist to the effect that Mr Evans had experienced countertransference because of the similarities between the experiences and health issues of his deceased wife and the patient.

The tribunal found that Mr Evan’s conduct in engaging in a personal and sexual relationship with the patient, following an inappropriate interval after the termination of their professional relationship, constituted professional misconduct.

In relation to the dishonesty allegations, the tribunal took into account that the practitioner had conceded he had provided false information, and that it was the practitioner himself who had brought the dishonesty to the attention of AHPRA. The tribunal also considered that the practitioner’s dishonesty must be viewed in light of the evidence that his behaviour was a reflection of his impaired judgement arising from his depression and death of his wife.

As to an appropriate sanction, the tribunal concluded that this must be informed by the exceptional and mitigating circumstances of this case. The tribunal also took into account:

  • the practitioner had no prior adverse disciplinary appearances or orders over his almost 20 year career and there had been no further incidents since the offending conduct
  • the practitioner had provided references attesting to his otherwise good conduct and the valuable contributions he makes as a nurse
  • the practitioner’s conduct was not predatory or knowingly exploitative
  • there is no evidence the relationship caused any emotional or physical harm to the patient, and
  • the practitioner had undertaken a professional boundary course and ongoing psychological counselling from which he had developed significant insight.

The tribunal reprimanded Mr Evans and imposed conditions on his registration that he must undertake psychological counselling for a period of 12 months.

The tribunal’s two decisions on this matter are published on the Austlii website on 9 June 2016 and 31 August 2016.

Page reviewed 8/02/2018