Mental health nurse struck off for having sex with patient

The patient told her case worker about the sexual encounters, saying she "felt yuck" and had considered taking an overdose of pills. Photo / 123RF
The patient told her case worker about the sexual encounters, saying she "felt yuck" and had considered taking an overdose of pills. Photo / 123RF

A male mental health nurse who had sex with a vulnerable female patient has been struck off the nursing register.

In its verdict published after an earlier Wellington hearing, the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal has also censured the nurse for his unethical behaviour and ordered him to pay $9920 towards the costs of his prosecution.

The nurse had "exploited" the woman's troubles with alcohol by giving her wine, the lawyers representing the Health and Disability Commissioner's prosecutor told the tribunal.

It is quite clear that he was there for one purpose
the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal

His name has been suppressed, to protect the patient, whose name is also suppressed.

The nurse, who had been registered for 32 years, was working as a forensic court liaison nurse for an unnamed district health board. The woman, a client of its community mental health service a number of times, had a pending court appearance for which she required the nurse's services.

She had a history of major depressive disorder, generalised anxiety and panic attacks, thinking about suicide, and alcohol issues. She was particularly vulnerable to exploitation after drinking alcohol. She had had a pattern of dysfunctional relationships and personality dysfunction.

She and the nurse had lived in the same town and had intermittent social contact; he had been in a relationship with one of her sisters.

When they bumped into each other in September 2013 and she told him of the motel where she was staying, he said he "might pop in later".

"[She thought he] ... meant he would be visiting her in his role as a ... nurse who had been involved in her clinical care ...," the tribunal said.

He arrived at 4.30pm in a DHB car. She was sitting outside smoking. He gave her a bottle of wine.

"I wonder if there's something you could do for me," he said, asking her to come inside.

"You're married," she said.

"Don't let that worry you, you understand," the nurse said.

He pulled out a condom and they had sex. He left and, when he returned to the motel later, they had sex again. He said he would return on another day with more wine, and that he had always fancied her.

She texted him not to return and they have had no further contact.

The patient told her case worker about the sexual encounters, saying she "felt yuck" and had considered taking an overdose of pills.

She told DHB staff she at first felt "coerced" to have sex, but she gave in after he told her of his difficulties at home.

She had been "looking for someone to be in her life and thought it might be [the nurse]", but she later felt it was "just sex".

The tribunal noted that the Nursing Council Code of Conduct for Nurses states: "Do not engage in sexual or intimate behaviour or relationships with health consumers in your care or with those close to them."

The nurse's lawyer, Caroline Mayston, said his record prior to this matter was unblemished.

She said he had admitted fault at the outset and offered his resignation. There was no predatory conduct and no premeditation. He was suffering personal stress at the time relating to his home life and his apparent abuse of alcohol, which might in part explain his abhorrent behaviour.

But the tribunal rejected the assertion of no premeditation.

"The practitioner encountered Patient A by chance in the street at a time when he had had considerable involvement in her care and was fully aware of her vulnerable condition, and the reasons for this.

"Against that background, the practitioner invited himself to the motel where Patient A was living, arrived in a DHB car with a bottle of wine as a gift for her. Apparently, he also had condoms. It is quite clear that he was there for one purpose."

- NZ Herald

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