A married mental health support worker developed a sexual relationship with a mentally unwell client and got her pregnant.

Health and Disability Commissioner Anthony Hill found the support worker's actions were sexually exploitative and unethical. Hill said the man had no regard for his client's vulnerabilities or the significance of his actions in forming a relationship with her.

The woman had a history of depression and self-harm and required support when she was unwell. She lived at a block of flats operated by a mental health service.

The man had been the woman's care worker for about six months before the relationship became sexual.


The woman fell pregnant but the relationship ended before their child was born.

The man initialled denied any sexual relationship but later admitted to it saying he had lied about it because he was concerned about losing his marriage.

He said the sexual relationship was not forced or manipulated or done when either person was unwell. He claimed that the relationship was consensual and that he had treated the woman with respect.

He said that strong emotions for each other probably developed after taking her on countless drives to lookouts at night and taking her to play pool when she was unwell.

Hill said he believed ethical standards were breached when a health care provider entered into a sexual relationship with a client whether it was consensual or not. He said it was the support worker's responsibility to maintain appropriate boundaries and that by not doing so his behaviour was sexually exploitative.

The mental health service he worked for was unaware of his relationship with the woman but became concerned about how much time he was spending with her.

The service addressed the issue through a formal disciplinary process which required he undertake more boundary training, however he failed to complete it. The service was not aware of that until months later.

Hill also criticised the service for not being aware the training was not completed and recommended they implement better controls to make sure staff completed training they were directed to undertake.