Key Points:

A mental health nurse who repeatedly had sex with a vulnerable patient was given a reference after leaving his job with the Auckland District Health Board (ADHB).

Ian Mete was struck off last week after a hearing of the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal ruled his relationship with the vulnerable woman was professional misconduct.

The 42-year-old was suspended from the ADHB's acute mental health unit, Te Whetu Tawera, in September 2006 and resigned three months later.

Six days later he used an ADHB reference to land a job with Waitemata DHB, working as an agency nurse before taking a position at Waitakere Hospital's mental health unit in 2007.

An ADHB spokeswoman said it had a policy of not commenting on "specific employment matters".

But she added: "If ADHB is approached for a reference it is our policy to be completely honest in terms of the information provided.

"In the situation where a staff member is dismissed for a serious matter, it is ADHB policy not to recommend the staff member in a verbal reference if and when we are approached by a potential new employer."

A spokeswoman for the Waitemata DHB said that it checked Mete's references "verbally and in writing with his previous employer and no issues were raised".

Jason Tamm, director of proceedings for the Health and Disability Commission, told the tribunal Mete's conduct "was intentional and not inadvertent carelessness. [It] constitutes malpractice, negligence and discredit to the profession."

The young woman, whose name is suppressed, was admitted to Te Whetu Tawera in June and July 2006.

She was discharged in late July but stayed in contact with Mete via text messages.

In early August she arrived at his house and slept on the sofa for three nights. On the morning of the third night they had sex for the first time. They slept together another four or five times before December 2006.

Mete told a colleague about the sexual relationship in late August 2006 but denied the allegations when confronted by the ADHB.

He was suspended and resigned on December 16, 2006.

When the Health and Disability Commissioner started investigating the allegations in February last year, Mete texted the woman for help.

In March last year he sent a message saying: "Am close 2 stepin off tall building, not sure I can do all this again." He also wrote: "Am bein investigated by h n d commission 4 rship wiv you. Need ur support or I am toast."

After learning of the allegations, the Waitemata DHB put Mete on discretionary leave on June 19, 2007. He was sacked a month later.

Mete, now in Tauranga, continued to deny the sexual relationship until he wrote to the Health and Disability Commission on May 7, 2008.

At his hearing, an emotional Mete told the tribunal he had made "a humungous mistake". He said stress at work had led to depression, and he turned to P and alcohol.

"I was just looking for anything to pull me out of the hole I was in," said Mete. "It's the dangerous thing about methamphetamine, it makes you feel everything you're doing is right."

He begged the tribunal not to strike him off, saying he loved nursing but "had made stupid mistakes".

Chairman Bruce Corkill QC said: "The correct approach is one that best protects the health and safety of members of the public."

Mete was ordered to undergo psychological counselling and a medical assessment by a drug and alcohol specialist before he could reapply to the nursing register.

He must also complete a postgraduate course in ethics, focusing on professional boundaries.

Mete told the Herald on Sunday he was prepared to undertake the course. "I am really ashamed of [the relationship]. I guess that's why I denied it for so long."