Snooping through files costs nurse thousands

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

"Mrs L", whose named is permanently suppressed, breached privacy by inappropriately accessing electronic clinical records of patients on 19 occasions without authority over nearly eight months in 2011.

She was also ordered to pay over $11,000 in costs. A colleague of Mrs L had her records, as well as those of some members of her family, accessed by her.

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

Her actions were the result of significant workplace stress that accumulated over a five-year period, she said. 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 this week, the tribunal 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.

Tribunal chairwoman Maria Dew noted in her decision 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 nurse so knew it was a violation of the patients' right to privacy. She 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.

Mrs L said during the hearing "I'm devastated that after 40 years of nursing I have put myself in this predicament."

The Press