Nurse suspended after snooping through 64 patients records

A DHB nurse had no sufficient reason to access 64 individual patient records, the health tribunal found.

A DHB nurse had no sufficient reason to access 64 individual patient records, the health tribunal found.

A nurse who snooped through more than 1000 private health records has admitted her actions have eroded public trust in the health system.  

In a charge brought by the Nursing Council's Professional Conduct Committee (PCC), the nurse was alleged to have accessed health records "without justification or authorisation" when she worked at an unnamed district health board.

She was found guilty of sifting through 64 people's private records and more than 1000 documents between November 2011 and May 2013.

She was suspended for 18 months.

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The nurse's name, her former workplace, and personal health details are suppressed in the judgment, in which she is referred to as "Ms T".

She appeared before the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal in Wellington. Capital & Coast DHB said she was not employed there, "to the best of our knowledge".

She was not employed at Wairarapa DHB either. Hutt Valley DHB said it did not comment on tribunal matters in which details have been suppressed.

She admitted having accessed medical records of district nurses, and those of other people she knew.

She said she acted on behalf of other nurses who were scheduled to visit patients. 

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Systems in place at the DHB where she worked were not consistent, which meant she tried to work out how clinical decisions had been made by looking at other records.

"[T]here was no algorithm to use to be able to manage the referrals," she said in a statement of evidence.

"Advice was often sought from others, including care managers and team leaders, and the opinion of others being of a clinical nature could vary." 

She was confused by this and felt that, if she "looked at the information of friends and seven colleagues who had told me part of their personal and sometimes medical history, I could better make sense of how clinical decisions had been made".


She offered an apology to patients and acknowledged they had lost trust with the DHB due to her actions.

"I know that this serious misconduct has caused harm to many individuals who now have to live with the fact that their records have been accessed inappropriately.

"I also acknowledge that I have caused harm to [the] DHB who had to inform multiple patients that their records had been inappropriately accessed. I understand that this has breached the trust that exists between patients and health practitioners.

"I understand that the trust that exists between patients and nurses is vital to ensure the good reputation for and trust in the nursing profession."

A spokesman for the privacy commissioner said: "Cases like this one have the potential to erode public trust in the health system, and that's why DHBs and health professional groups take the matter of employee browsing very seriously.

"[Many] DHBs have electronic audit processes which can reveal if employee browsing has taken place and with what frequency."

When cases such as Ms T's came to light through disciplinary tribunal hearings, it was an indication that systems are working, he said.


Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said any privacy breach was a serious matter, but they "unfortunately do happen from time to time".

"In 2015 I asked the Ministry of Health to work with the DHBs to ensure that they all have policy and procedures in place to help prevent and manage any such incidents. It's my expectation that these measures should be followed closely."

The ministry said DHBs had checks and balances such as  "core competency"  training on the Privacy Act for staff, "as well as code of conduct training and other controls such as the ability to audit access".

Ms T was dismissed in 2013 when the offending came to light, and has since switched careers.

 - Stuff

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