Nurse who stole cash, used patient’s debit card to pay $95 bill suspended, fined

A registered nurse who took cash and a patient’s debit card from her wallet to pay a $95 internet bill has been suspended and fined.

The nurse, who has interim name suppression and can be referred to only as Ms A, appeared before the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal via video on Tuesday morning, charged with professional misconduct.

The tribunal, chaired by barrister Theo Baker, heard around November 5, 2020, a patient – referred to as Ms X – saw her doctor at the medical centre where Ms A was working.

After seeing her doctor, the patient was taken to another part of the centre, leaving her bag on a chair at the foot of the bed. The nurse pulled the curtain across, blocking the patient’s view of her bag.

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Following the appointment, the patient found the cash missing when she went to purchase something.

She returned to practice, and asked whether they’d seen her money. Upon returning home, the doctor called to advise he had found four $20 notes under the bed. He kept the money in case it was needed by police, and reimbursed Ms X.

That same day, the patient’s husband checked their bank statement and saw their debit card had been used at 2.59pm – when Ms X was at the medical centre – to pay an internet company $95.09. They reported the matter to police.

That night, Ms X phoned the patient. She told her a male nurse had taken the money and that she told him to put it back.

Following a meeting at the medical centre the next morning, where staff were told an investigation was under way, Ms A left for an ‘urgent appointment’. Ms X got home about 9.40am and found Ms A there speaking to her husband.

The patient left her bag unattended in an exam room while taken to another part of the clinic. It was then that her wallet was accessed by the nurse. (file photo)
ABIGAIL DOUGHERTY/STUFF
The patient left her bag unattended in an exam room while taken to another part of the clinic. It was then that her wallet was accessed by the nurse. (file photo)

She was crying, and told the couple her boyfriend forced her to use Ms A’s card to pay a bill, as he had threatened to assault her – which was untrue, the tribunal heard.

Ms A repeatedly denied taking the cash, before ultimately admitting it.

The patient and her husband decided not to press charges.

Matthew McClelland QC, a lawyer for the Professional Conduct Committee​, said Ms A’s actions were “plainly … repeatedly dishonest” – including trying to “shift blame” to her partner and a colleague – and “fell well short of accepted standards”.

Ms A also breached professional boundaries by accessing Ms X’s phone number and address, he said.

McClelland acknowledged Ms A admitted she “failed her duty of care”. Her current employer was aware of the matter, and had provided “very favourable” references.

The patient and her husband decided not to press charges against Ms A following the theft. (File photo)
PXFUEL
The patient and her husband decided not to press charges against Ms A following the theft. (File photo)

However, she acted “deceitfully” and displayed an “ongoing lack of ownership” of her behaviour.

Ms A was aided by a community law centre. Lawyer Mike Sceats said prior to this “strange” incident she was well thought-of – no concerns had been raised about her medical proficiency or ethics.

The offending and “panicked attempt to cover it up” was impulsive and child-like, not malicious, he said.

“This is not the actions of a well-thought-out person trying to enrich themselves … it was not a master plan to prey on somebody. This was a very poorly thought-out response to pressure,” he told the tribunal.

The five-person tribunal decided to censure, suspend and fine Ms A, as well as place conditions on her ability to practice. (File photo)
UNSPLASH
The five-person tribunal decided to censure, suspend and fine Ms A, as well as place conditions on her ability to practice. (File photo)

Baker said the tribunal balanced determining a penalty to assist in Ms A’s rehabilitation while also marking their disapproval of the “serious” matter.

Ms A was censured, suspended for six months, and fined $2500.

She must pay 30 per cent towards costs – $7500 – and conditions were placed on her practice, including completing an ethics course and undergoing professional supervision, with a focus on stress management and resilience, at her own cost.

Baker acknowledged the contribution Ms A “has made, and will continue to make, to the nursing profession”.

Permanent name suppression was declined, but the nurse’s identity is suppressed for a month until after the written decision is publicly released

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