The Tribunal found that the conduct constituted professional misconduct pursuant paragraphs (a) and (c) of the definition of professional misconduct in section 5 of the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (Victoria) Act 2009.
The respondent was a registered enrolled nurse at relevant times. In February of 2018, the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) received a confidential notification alleging that the respondent had commenced a personal intimate and/or sexual relationship with a patient who had been under his professional care.
The patient had been admitted on three occasions as an inpatient at the hospital in 2011 for suicide attempts. The respondent directly participated in the treatment of the patient during the admission. The patient was discharged and referred to the hospital's mental health program and attended for a period of two to three years.
After she had been discharged, the patient revisited the hospital and gave the respondent a 'thank you' card. It was at this time that the respondent provided the patient with his personal email address.
Between January and May of 2012, the respondent socially met with the patient in public for reasons unrelated to her clinical care. The respondent also had conversations with the patient that impacted her perceptions of her access to the hospital's care, assisted the patient in moving into her rental accommodation, stayed overnight with her, told the patient that he loved her and engaged in intimate physical and/or sexual contact with her.
The respondent continued the intimate and/or sexual relationship with the patient from May 2012 to on or around December 2017.
After the relationship ended, the patient disclosed the relationship and the respondent's name to her psychologist. Her psychologist made a notification to AHPRA in February 2018 concerning the respondent's alleged conduct.
The Tribunal agreed with the Board's submissions because:
- the respondent provided direct care to the patient during her admission to the hospital following suicide attempts;
- the patient was particularly vulnerable by virtue of mental health;
- the patient had shared personal life circumstances with the respondent during the care, therefore making him aware of her vulnerabilities at the time.
The Tribunal held that the respondent had failed to maintain professional boundaries by commencing and being involved in a personal intimate and/or sexual relationship with a patient who had been under his care. Such conduct is significantly below the standard required by registered health practitioners of the equivalent level and training, referring to the Code of Ethics – August 2008, Code of Professional Conduct for Nurses in Australia, National Competency Standards for the Registered Nurse and A Nurses Guide to Professional Boundaries.
The respondent was reprimanded under section 196(2)(a), registration as an enrolled nurse was cancelled under section 196(2)(e) and he was disqualified from apply for registration for five years from the date of the order under section 196(4)(a) of the Open Courts Act 2013 (Vic).