12 May 2020
The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (Ahpra) has welcomed a stronger sentence for a former nurse who continued to work in aged care after her registration was suspended.
The Supreme Court of South Australia has allowed Ahpra’s appeal against the sentence imposed on Helena Heaft, a former nurse, for offences against the National Law and re-sentenced her.
On 23 December 2019 the Magistrates Court of South Australia convicted Helena Heaft of 66 charges of holding herself out as a registered nurse in breach of the National Law. Between February and June 2018 Ms Heaft worked as a registered nurse at aged care facilities while her nursing registration was suspended. Ms Heaft pleaded guilty to the charges and the Magistrate imposed a three-year good behavior bond. Ms Heaft was also automatically required by South Australian legislation to pay a victims of crime levy of $160 per charge, totaling $10,560.
Ahpra appealed against the sentence to the Supreme Court of South Australia on the grounds that it did not adequately reflect the seriousness of the offending and did not maintain adequate standards of punishment for, or deterrence against, such offending.
Yesterday, Justice Nicholson found that the initial sentence imposed was manifestly inadequate and allowed Ahpra’s appeal.
His Honour stated that "this Court’s intervention is required in the circumstances of this case in order to maintain an adequate standard of sentencing within this national scheme."
His Honour indicated that normally a substantial fine would be ordered in relation to this type of offending. However, given the significant amount of the compulsory victims of crime levies to be paid, he considered a more proportionate punishment with appropriate severity would be an order for community service. Justice Nicholson resentenced Ms Heaft, to perform 80 hours of community service within 18 months.
Ahpra CEO Martin Fletcher said, ‘We welcome this stronger sentence. Public safety is our number one concern and I hope this outcome sends a clear message of deterrence to anyone considering breaking the law and putting vulnerable aged care residents at risk.'
Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia Chair, Associate Professor Lynette Cusack, said, ‘People place their trust in nurses. Anyone who falsely claims to be a registered nurse betrays this trust and must face the consequences. As such, we welcome the development in this case.’
Anyone with concerns about whether an individual is registered with a national health practitioner board can check the register of practitioners maintained by Ahpra or contact Ahpra on 1300 419 495.
On 18 June 2019 the South Australia Health Practitioners Tribunal disqualified Ms Heaft from applying for registration as a nurse for 25 years. She was also permanently prohibited from providing nursing services.
Ahpra works in partnership with 15 National Boards to regulate Australia’s 740,000 registered health practitioners across 16 professions. Their primary role is to protect the public through the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme (National Scheme), a national system of regulation that sets national standards that all registered practitioners must meet. All registered practitioners are listed on an online register.
In February 2019 the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2019 (Qld) was passed by the Queensland Parliament.
The amendments included increased penalties and introduced an imprisonment term of up to three years for some offences against the National Law. The increased penalties will apply to offences committed after 1 July 2019 (except in Western Australia).
The introduction of an imprisonment term means that some offences will automatically become indictable offences in all states and territories (except Western Australia).
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• For registration enquiries: 1300 419 495 (within Australia) +61 03 9275 9009 (overseas callers).