A nurse has been cleared of any wrongdoing after a tetraplegic patient complained to the health watchdog that the medical professional had touched him inappropriately while changing his catheter.
The nurse, who has name suppression, had been accused of “playing with [the patient’s] nipples and masturbating him”, a decision released today by the New Zealand Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal (HPDT) detailed.
In October 2022, a Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) appointed by the Nursing Council of New Zealand laid a disciplinary charge against the nurse relating to his alleged touching of the patient in a sexual manner and masturbating of him without his consent.
He defended the charges at a hearing before the tribunal in Auckland in June last year.
“[The nurse] acknowledges that he touched the complainant’s genitals and that the complainant had an erection at the time, however, he touched the region to check the supra pubic catheter,” the decision stated.
He said he undertook supra pubic catheter checks every time he saw the complainant.
At the time of the alleged December 2019 incident, the medical professional was working as a district nurse which involved visiting patients in their home, including the complainant, who also has name suppression.
The nurse was providing ongoing wound care to a pressure sore of the complainant and changing his catheter.
The HPDT’s decision stated it had been agreed that the nurse did touch the complainant’s genitalia.
But the accounts diverge as to whether he touched his nipples, whether the touching was sexual and whether he masturbated the man.
They were the only two people in the room at the time.
The complainant told the tribunal that the nurse first changed the dressing and then stated he was going to conduct a groin check to see if there was any leakage of the catheter.
The complainant, who has some feeling in the lower half of his body, including his private area, then started to fall asleep. He described lying on his back and feeling the practitioner playing with his nipples and masturbating him.
He was unable to clarify if he saw the conduct happening, or if he sensed it by touch and hearing.
The decision stated there were varying accounts of what the complainant told different co-workers after the alleged conduct, who then called the police.
While the tribunal found the complainant to be credible, it identified several inconsistencies in his evidence that made aspects of it unreliable.
There were also several inconsistencies found in the nurse’s evidence, although the tribunal also found him to be credible.
In reaching the conclusion that the nurse’s account of the events was preferred, and finding that the charge was not established, the tribunal placed significant weight on the fact that he was providing appropriate care when he was checking the complainant’s genitals.
The tribunal noted that in reaching its decision, no criticism was made of the complainant or the PCC.
“As has become evident in recent reports, New Zealand has a long history of not properly acknowledging disabled people’s complaints of sexual abuse,” it said.
“It is important that their claims are taken seriously and dealt with appropriately and we have endeavoured to do so in this instance.”
Tara Shaskey joined NZME in 2022 as a news director and Open Justice reporter. She has been a reporter since 2014 and previously worked at Stuff where she covered crime and justice, arts and entertainment, and Māori issues.