A nurse who used a patient's credit card to pay an online bill while the woman underwent a heart check nearby, will be suspended from working for six months.
The nurse, who has interim name suppression, also stole $90 cash from the patient's wallet during the incident in November 2020 at a GP clinic in Wellington.
The Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal Found the nurse guilty of professional misconduct for the theft and dishonesty but did not cancel her nursing registration.
The tribunal heard the nurse was working at the medical centre on November 5, 2020, when the patient, who has name suppression, left her bag at the foot of a bed in her GP's room while she underwent an electrocardiogram in a nearby cubicle.
According to an agreed summary of facts, the nurse pulled the curtain so the patient could not see her handbag and removed a credit or debit card from the wallet.
She paid a $95 bill online to My Republic, an internet service provider, and returned the credit card, taking the $90 cash.
When the patient left she went to a pharmacy and discovered the money was missing.
The woman returned to the medical centre and asked whether anyone had seen the cash and suggested staff check surveillance cameras.
The practice manager was advised but the money was not found. However, when the patient returned home her GP rang to say he had found four $20 notes under the end of the bed and he reimbursed the patient.
The same day the woman's husband checked her bank account and noticed her credit card had been used at 2.59pm, when she was undergoing the heart test, to pay My Republic $95.09.
Later that night the nurse rang the patient and claimed she was working late and was checking in about what happened that day.
She told the woman a male nurse had taken the money and that she convinced him to put it back.
When the clinic managers announced an investigation, the nurse went to the patient's home and broke down, claiming her boyfriend had forced her to use the card to pay a bill, threatening to "beat her up" if she didn't. This was not true.
She did not admit to taking the cash and when managers arrived at the home she continued the story of a student nurse taking the cash. She repeated these denials for four days until finally admitting the theft.
Four theft or dishonesty charges were admitted by the nurse and the tribunal found they amounted to malpractice and were likely to discredit the nursing profession.
Tribunal chairperson Theo Baker said the actions warranted disciplinary sanction.
Counsel for the professional conduct committee, Matthew McClelland, said the nurse's conduct was a significant departure from acceptable professional standards and she should be deregistered.
He said the public must be able to entrust and have confidence in health professionals and their regulation.
Aggravating factors were the clear breach of trust of a vulnerable patient, continued denials of having taken the money, false accusations of the student nurse and breaching boundaries by contacting and visiting the patient at her home.
But McClelland said mitigating factors included that she admitted the offending and was now in new employment and had advised her employers of the charges.
Counsel for the nurse, Mike Sceats, said his client was extremely remorseful.
He said the theft was totally out of character for the nurse who was under pressure to pay the overdue bill and panicked.
"It appears to have been a rather impulsive action ... and somewhat panicked attempt to cover it up."
The rest of his submission was suppressed.
Sceats said the nurse would prefer to take a financial penalty so that she could continue working.
Despite her employers knowing about the dishonesty, they were planning to promote her.
The tribunal ordered the nurse be suspended from working for six months from the date of the written decision.
If the nurse continues in the profession after that she must undergo professional supervision by the Nursing Council, undertake a course in ethics and privacy and disclose the case to any employer for two years after returning to the profession.
The tribunal also fined her $2500 and ordered costs to the tribunal of $7500.
It did not grant permanent name suppression but said her name suppression would only be lifted one month after the date of the written decision.
Costs for the tribunal were expected to be $25,000.