Ex-nursing head guilty of misconduct
Nelson registered nurse and former New Zealand Nurses Organisation president Nano Tunnicliff has been found guilty of professional misconduct for compromising the safety of 87 patients in the top of the south.
Her wrongful actions happened while she was president and while she was campaigning for a second term.
The Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal has found Tunnicliff guilty of failing to document her consultations with the 87 people in the clinical record when she was employed as a specialist rheumatology clinical nurse by the Nelson Marlborough District Health Board, between April 6, 2010 and February 15 last year.
She also compromised or potentially compromised the health and safety of one of those patients by failing to notify a medical practitioner when the patient advised her they were experiencing a "funny feeling" in their chest and right hand, the tribunal found.
The DHB apologised today and told the Nelson Mail that all the affected patients had been reviewed and a higher level of supervision put in place.
Tunnicliff has been suspended from nursing for nine months from August 20, censured and ordered to pay $6500 in costs.
The tribunal lifted name suppression from September 4, saying an interim suppression order gave her time to organise support for her family and consult about her own position.
It said Tunnicliff's involvement with the NZNO was a ground that would encourage rather than discourage publication of her name.
The tribunal has issued an oral decision made on August 20 in which it says a detailed decision is still to come.
It says the charges were serious and as well as the suspension has imposed conditions on Tunnicliff including that she complete a course on the ethical and professional obligations of a registered nurse, to be approved by the Nursing Council.
She will also be subject to supervision for 12 months once she returns to nursing, and must disclose the tribunal's decision to future employers, and advise the Nursing Council of her employer for three years after she resumes practice as a nurse.
This month's issue of the organisation's magazine Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand, just out, summarises the case and includes a joint message from president Marion Guy and kaiwhakahaere (Maori leader) Kerri Nuku in which they say they feel "let down and disappointed" that Tunnicliff didn't inform the NZNO's board of the situation at any time.
"NZNO relies on the integrity of our members to be open and honest about situations that may jeopardise the organisation's standing. It is extremely unfortunate that, in this case, the board was not informed."
Both say the situation will not cause long-term damage to the NZNO, "which is in good heart and well-respected".
The magazine says that Tunnicliff resigned in June last year from her position with the DHB, stating she was leaving "to pursue a better work/life balance and to give the presidential role the focus it requires to be done well".
Responding to the Mail's questions, director of nursing Robyn Henderson said the DHB apologised to patients who had to go to the hospital for extra appointments.
Each of the patients had been followed up appropriately by nursing and medical personnel, she said, and a charge nurse manager had been appointed to oversee all specialist clinical nurses' practice in this area.
Asked how the situation had continued undiscovered for nearly two years, she said regulated health professionals had a code of conduct and ethics that assured a quality level of service.
"This was a highly specialised nurse who had a high level of trust and confidence placed in her in this role."
It was unlikely that the board would hire Tunnicliff again; "however all appointments are based on merit at the time of hiring".
Approached for comment this morning, Tunnicliff said the decision was self-explanatory and she had set out the reasons for what happened to the tribunal.
She had already said she was sorry, and felt that the NZNO had prejudiced her position by going public before the full decision was out.
"It's already had enough attention out there. My comment is that the workplace is an incredibly hard workplace to work in."
Asked if she intended to go back to nursing, she said she had no comment at this stage.
The NZNO is the nurses' union. It represents more than 46,000 nurses and health workers, including midwives, students and allied health professionals.
Rheumatology deals with arthritis, lupus and related diseases.
- © Fairfax NZ News