12 Feb 2021
A tribunal has cancelled a nurse’s registration and disqualified her from applying for registration until 31 August 2021, for having inappropriate relationships with two vulnerable patients.
After receiving a notification on 7 July 2017 about Ms Jessica Middleton’s personal and sexual relationship with a patient in July 2017, the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia (NMBA) proposed to take immediate action by suspending her registration.
During the immediate action process, submissions were made on behalf of Ms Middleton stating, 'there is nothing to suggest Ms Middleton is prone to develop inappropriate relationships generally'. This was ultimately found to be misleading, with Ms Middleton having recently engaged in a personal and sexual relationship with a second patient.
On 3 August 2017, the NMBA decided (despite the misleading information) to suspend Ms Middleton’s registration, while it progressed its investigation into Ms Middleton’s conduct. On 31 August 2017, the NMBA received a further notification about Ms Middleton’s relationship with the second patient, which also formed part of the NMBA’s investigation.
The conduct under investigation related to events in 2016 and 2017 while Ms Middleton was employed as a Graduate Nurse (Mental Health) working at Austin Health and included that she:
Both patients were being treated for mental health conditions at the time.
The NMBA referred the matter to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (the tribunal) on 4 April 2019 having formed a reasonable belief that Ms Middleton had engaged in professional misconduct.
At the tribunal, Ms Middleton admitted that her conduct amounted to professional misconduct. She accepted that forming relationships with the patients was ‘extremely serious and damaging’. She also admitted that she had provided misleading information during the immediate action process, and to have accessed patient 1’s records without authority.
In cancelling Ms Middleton’s registration and disqualifying her from re-applying until 31 August 2021, the tribunal noted that Ms Middleton would by then have spent a total of four years out of practice. The tribunal observed that ‘Among other things, the period of disqualification we order will give Ms Middleton an appropriate further opportunity to build on what she has done to date to ensure that she will be able to return to practice safely if she applies for and is granted registration.’
The tribunal’s decision appears on the AustLII website.