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Accessing clinical records leads to suspension.

A REGISTERED nurse who accessed the electronic clinical records of 64 people not under her care has been found guilty of professional misconduct, censured and had her registration suspended for 18 months. A professional conduct committee had brought the charge of professional misconduct.

A Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal hearing in August 2016 heard that between November 2011 and May 2013, "T" accessed the files of 64 individuals. At the time, she was employed at a DHB as a clinical screener. She coordinated all referrals requiring access to community services. The electronic records system, Medical Application Portal (MAP), held all clinical applications for patients.

In 2013, the DHB began an investigation into T's conduct. It found she had accessed the records of people without authorisation and when she was not providing health care to them. Her employment was subsequently terminated.

In addition to the agreed summary of facts, which T had signed, the tribunal considered an additional statement from her. In this, she said she did not want to excuse what she had done but to provide some background to the conduct and to apologise for the harm she had caused. She put the inappropriate judgements regarding accessing the electronic clinical-records down to her psychological condition at the time and detailed her history of depression. The tribunal accepted her psychological state may have affected her judgement and that it provided some explanation for her conduct.

T expressed regret, acknowledged her conduct had caused psychological distress and stated she had done what she could to apologise to those concerned.

Following her dismissal, she had been unable to find regular work. She and her husband had had to sell their home and now lived in rented accommodation. The tribunal heard T had no intention of returning to nursing.

The tribunal said the practitioner's behaviour clearly contravened a nurse's professional obligations and brought the profession into disrepute. "To access material on the scale that the practitioner in this case admits to having done is a very serious departure from the standards which the public is entitled to expect of nurses," the tribunal stated.

It accepted the submissions of counsel for the PCC and for T that all penalties for health practitioners who access private clinical records without justification generally involved a censure and suspension of registration. But the tribunal said the public's expectations of organisations and individuals with responsibility for maintaining the privacy of health records were higher than they once were. While cancellation of T's registration would be unduly harsh, breaches of patient privacy were very serious. A future tribunal might regard cancellation to be warranted "by an egregious breach of privacy of the sort involved in this case".

Conditions on return to practice

The tribunal censured T, suspended her registration for 18 months from the date of its decision (September 23, 2016) and imposed conditions on her return to practice. If she applied for a renewal of her practising certificate, she must first satisfy the Nursing Council she was fit to practise. If she resumed practice, she would be monitored regularly by the council's health committee and practise under council-directed supervision for a year. Before, or within six months of resuming practice, she would have to undertake a course on nurses' obligations concerning the privacy of patients' health records. She was ordered to pay $9300 in costs.

The tribunal suppressed the practitioner's name, health details, the name of the DHB where she had worked, her current employer and any information that might identify any of these.

It also ordered that a copy and summary of its decision be published on its website (www.hpdt.org) and a notice stating the effect of its decision be published in Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand and the Nursing Council's newsletter, News Update. The number of the decision is 849/Nurl6/343P.
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Title Annotation:disciplinary notices
Publication:Kai Tiaki: Nursing New Zealand
Geographic Code:8NEWZ
Date:Jul 1, 2017
Words:636
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