Health and Disciplinary Officer: Nurse who “sexually exploited” patient referred to procedural director

The Health and Disciplinary Commissioner has investigated a “gross boundary breach” after a patient complained of sexual assault. Photo / NZME

A patient who complained about being sexually abused by a nurse received no contact or an apology from the hospital for two years.

The hospital’s failure to do this “increased the harm” caused to the patient through a “gross boundary breach”, according to the Health and Disability Commissioner (HDC).

The names and genders of the people involved, the hospital and the date the incident occurred were not disclosed in a case summary released by the HDC on Monday.

However, the summary states that the patient reported the matter to the police at the time and the HDC has now referred the nurse to its process manager.

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The Director of Proceedings is a lawyer who makes independent decisions on whether further action is required in cases before the HDC.

This action could involve prosecution before the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal, proceedings before the Human Rights Review Tribunal, or both.

The patient’s contact with the HDC triggered an investigation into both the incident and the Te Whatu Ora Health Authority’s handling of the matter, with the subsequent complaint.

The deputy health and disciplinary commissioner, Dr. Vanessa Caldwell said the patient was hospitalized following his injury.

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“On the second night of the patient’s stay, the nurse sexually assaulted the patient while he was sleeping,” the summary states.

The patient confronted the nurse the next day in the presence of other staff and filed a formal report with the hospital and the police.

“The patient subsequently complained that the hospital did not contact him after the initial report or apologize for the incident until he made another complaint two years later.”

Caldwell believed the nurse had “sexually exploited” the patient in violation of the Health and Disability Services Consumer Rights Code.

Caldwell also believed Te Whatu Ora’s handling of the complaint was inadequate and also breached the code.

She criticized Te Whatu Ora for not acknowledging the patient’s complaint, not regularly updating him on the progress of the investigation or apologizing “in a timely manner”.

Caldwell held that these actions compounded the harm the patient had suffered.

She recommended that Te Whatu Ora use the case to develop training and development for hospital staff to deal appropriately with reports of crime.

The full copy of the report was not released to protect the privacy of the people involved, HDC said.

The commission typically publishes the names of health care providers and public hospitals that violate the code, but not if doing so would “unfairly jeopardize” privacy.

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The outcome of the police complaint is unknown.

Ric Stevens worked for the former New Zealand Press Association for many years, including as a political reporter in Parliament, before holding senior positions at various newspapers. He joined NZME’s Open Justice team in 2022 and is based in Hawke’s Bay.