A tearful nurse, suspended for stealing drugs, told of her regret and stressful working conditions at a tribunal hearing yesterday.
At the same hearing, a former employee of the same Auckland rest home raised concerns about overworked nurses and a lack of appraisals for nurses working in some privately run health facilities.
Suspended nurse Christine Bushell admitted to dishonestly ordering 498 drugs, including pain reliever codeine phosphate and sleeping pill zopiclone.
Bushell, formerly a nurse at Selwyn Oaks rest home, ordered the tablets for four patients but used them to relieve her own drug dependency.
The offences occurred between October 2009 and March 2010.
The Health Practitioners' Disciplinary Tribunal was told that Bushell, 53, breached a complex system for ordering and storing "drugs of concern."
Tribunal chairman David Carden asked Bushell whether a "surplus" of drugs tempted her to help herself.
"I wasn't in a state at that time to be coherent in thought," Bushell answered.
The tribunal also heard evidence from former Selwyn Oaks' clinical co-ordinator Sandra Sheene, who spoke of stress and unclear standards affecting nurses at some private clinics.
"The standards are very hard to get hold of," Ms Sheene said.
"I did ask about those at Selwyn Oaks and I was told they are only guidelines. I think it's a very political topic. There are standards that are not upheld by the government. It's very difficult because we don't have standards to work by."
Sheene said in some aged care facilities, one registered nurse can be responsible for up to 60 patients.
She also expressed concerns at a lack of processes available to audit the competency of nurses. She said nurses at some private facilities can go "from year to year" without being audited.
"It's particularly happening in private hospitals. My concern is that Selwyn Oaks was invited to join the DHB and they didn't. A nurse could work for years and years and never have a performance appraisal."
Sheene said there is "an incredible amount of pressure on nurses."
Imelda Keogan, another former colleague of Bushell, said it was "very hard" to work as a supervising nurse, dealing with emergencies and keeping an eye on drug stocks at the same time.
After Ms Sheene's testimony, Professional Conduct Committee counsel Matthew McClelland wanted name suppression for Selwyn Oaks. But APNZ argued successfully that publication of the rest home's name was in the public interest.
Selwyn Foundation staff did not return calls or voicemail messages yesterday evening. However, Ms Sheene told the tribunal that processes regarding "drugs of abuse" were changed following Bushell's actions.
McClelland said the processes in place at Selwyn Oaks were sufficient, but Bushell had abused her position and Selwyn Oaks could not be blamed for her dishonesty.
Bushell was suspended for two years.
Mr Carden said Bushell would be free to re-register as a nurse when her suspension finished.
Bushell said she had no wish to return to nursing.
"I will never be a nurse again. I really like helping people but the stress and other things that happened in the last few years have been over and above what I would have expected for anybody."
She was also ordered to pay a $5000 share of the hearing's $40,000 costs. She was not fined but was censured by the Tribunal.
The tribunal ordered Bushell to attend a drug rehabilitation programme. She will also be referred to the Health Committee of the Nurses Council to monitor her health.
Mr Carden said the tribunal was pleased by Bushell's apologetic and co-operative attitude.
Bushell paid tribute to nurses when asked whether her actions brought the profession into disrepute.
"I don't think the nurses should be lumped in ... It's one person who's done something wrong, not anybody else."
Bushell said she would rebuild her life by working with the rehabilitation programme and staying involved with a women's group she joined four months ago.
"I know in my heart that I was a good nurse ... that I caused no harm, that I'm a good person, and I've made a mistake."