On 19 February 2019, the Civil and Administrative Tribunal of New South Wales found a registered nurse, Ms Shrimpton, guilty of professional misconduct after she used an elderly patient’s credit card for her own advantage. 

Background Facts

Ms Shrimpton was a registered nurse employed at the Central Coast Hospital (the Hospital). In July 2016, a 77 year old patient was admitted to the Hospital suffering from leg ulcers. The patient took approximately $300 cash and a credit card with her to the Hospital.

The patient was discharged home on the 15 August 2016. On returning home she had a fall and was readmitted to the Hospital the next day.

By late August 2016, the patient was on heavy doses of morphine and had lost her ability to have a conversation and recognise people. She suffered Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease for which she required 24 hour oxygen. She was unable to move without assistance, was hearing impaired and at times had to use a pen and paper to communicate.

On 23 August 2016, a progress note recorded that the patient’s purse had been emptied on her bed. Keys were found under the blankets, cards and other purse items were found under her bed, money was found in several places around the room including the garbage bin.

The patient passed away on 6 September 2016. On that day the patient’s son collected her belongings, but found no cash or credit card with her wallet.

Upon attending the bank, the patient’s son discovered that the following debit purchases were made during the patient’s hospitalisation:

  1. On 31 August 2016 at Woolworths for $39.90;
  2. On 31 August 2016 at Best & Less for $35.00;
  3. On 5 September 2016 at White Neish for $69.95.

The patient’s son reported the conduct to the police. After investigations, Ms Shrimpton was arrested on 17 October 2017 for dishonestly obtaining property by deception. Ms Shrimpton failed to notify AHPRA within 7 days of being charged with this office, in contravention of section 130(1)(a)(i) of the National Law.

Ms Shrimpton subsequently resigned from her employment on 21 October 2016, and on 31 October 2016, the Nursing and Midwifery Council of New South Wales (the Council) her registration.

On 1 December 2016, the Council referred the matter to the Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC). During the HCCC investigation, Ms Shrimpton did not answer the allegations regarding the purchases at Woolworths and Best & Less. In regards to the purchase from White Neish, Ms Shrimpton denied knowingly or intentionally using the patient’s credit card and claimed that:

  • She had only become aware of her purchase from the White Nash retailer using the patient’s credit card when she attended the police station to be interviewed about the matter;
  • The patient often had her personal possessions scattered about her room; and
  • She must have been handed the patient’s card and while attending to another task and must have confused it for her own and inadvertently retained possession of the card.

On 23 February 2017, the criminal charge was withdrawn as it was thought the police could not prove that the patient did not consent to the use of her card.

Findings

The tribunal found that Ms Shrimpton’s use of the credit card, refusal to cooperate during the HCCC investigation and failure to notify AHPRA of the charges each amounted to unsatisfactory conduct. When the three counts of unsatisfactory conduct were considered together, the tribunal found Ms Shrimpton had engaged in professional misconduct.

The tribunal found that the patient did not consent or was not in a state to give consent for the use of her credit card. Ms Shrimpton therefore knowingly took advantage of that vulnerability and used the patient’s credit card for her own personal use, amounting to fraudulent conduct:

“Ms Shrimpton’s fraudulent conduct, opportunistic theft and dishonesty shown in her dealings with her peers and to AHPRA by failing to report the charge against her fall far below the standards reasonably expected of a registered nurse. It was improper.”

Orders

Given the seriousness of the findings, it was in the interests of fairness that Ms Shrimpton be given the opportunity to consider the significance of the tribunal’s decision and the HCCC’s position of seeking orders including cancellation of her registration, the setting of a non-review period before which she can seek re-registration and a bar on her providing health services.