Finding of professional misconduct by tribunal over sexual assault by a former enrolled nurse

21 Apr 2021

A tribunal has found the behaviour of a Victorian enrolled nurse constituted professional misconduct, after he was found guilty for a criminal charge of sexual assault.

The criminal finding related to events which occurred on 18 July 2018, when Mr Heath Pickett had drunk heavily and was picked up by the Victorian Police. He was later collected from Police custody by a female colleague, also a nurse who worked at the same aged care facility. It was alleged that while taking Mr Pickett home, he sexually assaulted her.

As a result of the sexual assault allegations, the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia (NMBA), took an immediate action and suspended Mr Pickett from September 2018, pending the outcome of the criminal investigation.

On 4 April 2019, Mr Pickett pleaded guilty in the Magistrates Court to one count of sexual assault and was sentenced, without conviction, to a Community Correction Order for a period of 18 months. An intervention order was also made for a period of two years protecting his female colleague. The NMBA referred allegations to the tribunal about the finding of sexual assault, as well as Mr Pickett’s conduct.

On 15 December 2020, the tribunal found Mr Pickett had engaged in professional misconduct but was not prepared to make a finding that Mr Pickett is impaired by reason of his health. On 4 March 2021, the tribunal reprimanded Mr Pickett,  cancelled his registration, and disqualified him from applying for registration until 6 September 2021.

In its decision the tribunal stated that, ‘Mutual trust between health practitioners as colleagues is essential to maintain an effective and safe working environment in healthcare institutions. In our view, a message needs to be sent that practitioners such as nurses, should be able to feel physically safe with their colleagues, and that any breach of that trust, even if only on a single occasion, or outside the workplace, or under the influence of alcohol, will be treated very seriously.’ The tribunal also referenced Mr Picket’s history of substance dependency as something he would need to overcome if he was to resume making a beneficial contribution to the community as a practising nurse.

Commenting on the tribunal’s decision, the NMBA Chair Adjunct Professor Veronica Casey supported the tribunals statements and confirmed that the Board supported a zero-tolerance approach to this type of behaviour from a nurse or a midwife

‘This outcome should serve as a deterrent to anyone who thinks this kind of behaviour is in any way acceptable or can be explained away. It isn’t and it can’t. The line is drawn for what it takes to be a fit and proper person working as a nurse or midwife, and we will work with tribunals to hold practitioners to account who cross this line,’ she said.

The tribunal’s decisions  were published on the AustLII website on 15 December 2020 and on 4 March 2021.

 
 
Page reviewed 21/04/2021