A registered nurse who hung up on callers while working at a government-funded health service has been suspended from working as a nurse for two years.
Senia Kelemete, 43, of Auckland, was found guilty of professional misconduct by a meeting of the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal in Wellington today.
The decision related to her conduct over an eight-month period two years ago, during which she was contracted to take calls for Healthline.
At the time, Kelemete - who did not appear at today's hearing - was employed by Medibank Health Solutions (MHS).
The company is contracted by the Ministry of Health to assess and provide help to callers to Healthline.
Kelemete was regarded as a senior nurse, who until May 2011 had an untarnished record.
However, phone records and logs of Kelemete's computer collected by her manager Karen Webb revealed an alarming pattern in her behaviour over the period in question.
She was found to have terminated 49 calls unnecessarily between May 2011 and January 2012.
Some calls were as short as three seconds, others were cut off after Kelemete greeted the callers.
On one occasion, she terminated a call from a woman concerned about a 17-year-old friend with septicaemia who had missed two days worth of penicillin injections.
The caller said her friend had chest pain over her heart. Kelemete terminated the call before assessing whether the woman's friend was in any immediate danger.
It was also established that Kelemete had been checking an instant messaging system and looking at patient medical records while hanging up on callers.
She was dismissed in February last year.
Tribunal chairman David Carden said Kelemete's conduct had amounted to malpractice.
There had also been an element of negligence in her work, which could discredit the nursing profession, he said.
However, he acknowledged MHS had taken appropriate steps to monitor Kelemete's conduct once problems were brought to light.
This included a meeting between Ms Webb, MHS national operations manager Leanne Radovanovich and Kelemete in November 2011 to discuss issues needing improvement.
Further monitoring showed there was a brief improvement in Kelemete's work, before she fell back into terminating calls unnecessarily, Mr Carden noted.
A request from the Professional Conduct Committee, which brought the charge against Kelemete after being appointed by the Nursing Council of New Zealand, to strike her name from the nurses' register permanently was refused.
The tribunal said this was because Kelemete, who is of Cook Island descent, was a well-qualified nurse who could serve in an area of the community that lacked them.
MHS said in a statement that the public can continue to have confidence in the service Healthline provides.
Medical Director Dr Richard Medlicott said Medibank Health Solutions was extremely concerned when it identified the nurse's behaviour through internal monitoring systems.
"This behaviour is completely unacceptable, and once discovered, Medibank Health Solutions moved quickly to investigate, stood the nurse down, and she was later dismissed. We also reported the nurse to the Nursing Council."
All Healthline telenurses receive comprehensive, ongoing training to enable them to provide the highest quality service and advice, he said.
Dr Medlicott said incidents such as this are rare, and the public can have confidence Healthline continues to provide a high-quality, evidence-based health advice and information service.
"Healthline answers over 390,000 calls each year, and employs around 100 experienced, registered nurses."
* Suspended from working as a nurse for two years and censured
* Conditions placed on her return to the nursing workforce, including supervision for 12 months
* Ordered to pay $3000 towards legal costs