Tribunal suspends nurse for professional misconduct

27 Oct 2020

A tribunal has suspended an enrolled nurse’s registration for three months for professional misconduct concerning an improper relationship with a patient.

The South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (tribunal) heard that Mrs Emily Victoria Adam was an enrolled nurse working at a specialist clinic when in May 2017 she, along with other nurses, accepted a Facebook ‘friend’ request from a patient at the clinic. In about August 2017, staff were advised by their supervisor that they should not be Facebook friends with any patient. Mrs Adam and other nurses ‘un-friended’ the patient.

The patient persuaded Mrs Adam to provide to him her email address and mobile phone details. He continued to communicate with her via these means. The tribunal accepted that the patient was the initiator and prime actor in these communications and that he was actively pursuing Mrs Adam in the hope of engaging in a relationship with her. The communications in about September or October gradually became more intimate and sexual in nature. In November 2017, they met in person several times and sexual conduct occurred.

Mrs Adam terminated the relationship in about January 2018. On 9 April 2018, she self-reported the relationship to her employer and then made a self-notification to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (Ahpra).

Mrs Adam admitted to Ahpra and the employer the nature of her improper relationship. The tribunal noted that she displayed clear insight and contrition about the unprofessional nature of the relationship. She was forthright and cooperated fully with the investigation.

The tribunal noted that this was a case where the patient initiated the relationship and that Mrs Adam did not actively take advantage of any position of power or of any special vulnerability of the patient. Nonetheless, the tribunal found that Mrs Adam’s conduct was wholly inexcusable and amounted to serious professional misconduct. The tribunal considered that Ms Adam’s conduct:

  • placed the patient and his family at risk of harm
  • led to a loss of trust in health services on the part of the patient’s wife
  • disrupted the patient’s treatment which was transferred to another clinic
  • had the potential to give rise to conflicts of interest, and
  • was liable to bring the clinic and the profession into disrepute.

The tribunal ordered that conditions be imposed on Mrs Adam’s registration requiring, among other things, for her to complete further education on ethical obligations and professional boundaries. The tribunal ordered that Mrs Adam’s registration be suspended for three months and that she be reprimanded.
The tribunal’s decision is published on the Austlii website.


 
 
Page reviewed 27/10/2020