Stressed nurse fined $6k for 'snooping'

04:26, Aug 22 2014

A nurse who snooped through multiple patient files has been fined $6000 for her ''serious abuse'' of her role.

Mrs L breached privacy by inappropriately accessing electronic clinical records of patients on 19 occasions without authority over a period of nearly eight months in 2011.

A colleague of Mrs L had her records, as well as those of some members of her family and those of people with the same last name, accessed by her.

During a Health Practitioners' Disciplinary Tribunal hearing in May this year, Mrs L admitted the charge, saying she knew it was wrong.

She said her actions were the result of significant workplace stress that accumulated over a five-year period. Mrs L said she never had any malice in accessing the records and never used them or disclosed them to anyone else.

In a decision released today, HPDT imposed a censure, a fine of $6000 and a condition that future employers were told of this decision for a period of two years from recommencing employment as a registered nurse.


In her decision, tribunal chairwoman Maria Dew noted that the district health board involved had been aware of a dysfunctional employment relationship, and it was unfortunate it had never been satisfactorily addressed.

''The practitioner's conduct was a significant departure from acceptable professional nursing standards,'' she said.

''It is a serious abuse of the privilege that nurses are given to access patient medical records to do so other than for the proper care of patients.''

Dew said Mrs L was a highly experienced charge nurse so knew it was a violation of the patients' right to privacy, and accessed the records for her own purposes. However, Dew noted several mitigating factors in her decision, including Mrs L reporting her own misconduct to her employer which ultimately led to her losing her job.

''The practitioner was under a high level of physiological distress at the time of the offending," Dew said.

"It is clear from the medical reports produced both shortly after she admitted the offending and the report prepared by Dr S for this tribunal, that the practitioner was, at the time of the offending, suffering with a significant workplace stress that caused her to lose professional judgement and access the medical records.''

During the hearing, Mrs L expressed her ''sincere and deep regret'' for her actions. 

''I acknowledge my conduct has caused harm and distress and I am truly sorry. I accept that I had no right to access the records, '' she said. 

''I'm devastated that after 40 years of nursing I have put myself in this predicament.''

Mrs L's colleague, Mrs Y, told the tribunal accessing her records had left her feeling humiliated and violated.

Mrs Y's husband, Mr Y, who also worked for the same DHB, told the tribunal Mrs L would have understood exactly what the results meant, which caused him distress.

''She accessed my laboratory and radiology results several times. She had no reason to be doing that. It was clearly a flagrant breach of my privacy,'' Mr Y said during the hearing.

''This has had a major impact on my life. I can't understand what would drive an individual to go to these lengths. She has destroyed a family.''

Dew also ordered Mrs L to pay costs of $11,422 and granted permanent name suppression to all involved.

The Press