Nurses are bound by codes of conduct. (File photo)
A nurse’s rule-breaking relationship with an ex-patient ended with him stalking and harassing her.
The nurse admitted an inappropriate relationship with the former patient, against whom she eventually obtained a final protection order, at a hearing of the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal in Christchurch on Tuesday.
The relationship began soon after the nurse left her place of employment, a facility which cannot be named due to interim suppression orders.
The nurse and her ex-patient also cannot be named for the same reason.
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The woman, who no longer has a current registration, admitted a summary of facts outlining the relationship during the hearing.
Weeks after treating the man for addiction, anxiety and depression over a long period she began to call herself the man’s partner and girlfriend.
After the relationship foundered in late 2018, the ex-patient stalked and threatened her. He was issued with a police safety order which progressed to a final protection order early last year.
Matthew McClelland QC, for the professional standards committee of the Nursing Council, told the hearing it always remained the responsibility of the registered nurse to maintain appropriate professional boundaries.
“It is not the responsibility of the patient to manage this relationship.”
He said the relationship was intimate and romantic, a submission which attracted an objection from the nurse’s counsel, Catherine Deans.
She said no evidence was available to support a sexual relationship between her client and the ex-patient.
McClelland said the nurse and her patient had a regular and consistent therapeutic relationship, and she had access to his private and personal information while she worked at the facility.
“This put [the nurse] in a significant position of power and created a dynamic whereby [the ex-patient] could have been vulnerable to the use and abuse of the information she had about him.
An imbalance of power existed in the relationship and the ex-patient was “significantly vulnerable”.
“[The nurse] would have been aware … he was regularly taking anti-depressant medication, that he had addiction concerns and that his mental health and well-being was fragile.”
The fact the relationship became abusive, did not “undermine the inherent vulnerability and power imbalance that exists due to the nurse/patient relationship”, he said.
In submissions on what penalty might be appropriate, Deans said the ex-patient was manipulative and it appeared he was involved with three other women at the time of his involvement with her client.
There was no evidence he was harmed.
Her client’s personal issues left her open to manipulation, and she did not receive the necessary training and support from her employer.
The nurse accepted her conduct fell short of set standards but the departure was at the less serious end of professional boundaries cases.
“There is no need to impose a penalty out of concern about lack of insight and understanding … there are no aggravating factors and compelling mitigating factors,” she said.
The hearing continues on Wednesday.