A man and a woman went to the Stag and Hunter pub in Newcastle for drinks, had lunch, and went back to her room to “make out”.
They were celebrating the woman’s daughter’s upcoming wedding, and over the course of the “wonderful day out” in October 2013, they began to fall in love.
They married this year and live together in Queensland.
The story sounds like a happy one, but last week the Civil and Administrative Tribunal found it was not ethical for the man to take the woman out for drinks and lunch, and have intimate contact with her because he was an enrolled nurse at the aged care facility she was staying.
The tribunal ruled the nurse, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, seriously breached professional boundaries, finding him guilty of professional misconduct
The 51-year-old woman, who uses a wheelchair and needs 24-hour care, was at Mayfield Aged Care facility for respite care, when the nurse took her on an outing on his day off.
When they returned to the centre, the nurse told other staff: “We are going to her room to make out.”
Staff said the woman appeared to be drunk, and overheard her say they had “too many, but that is our secret”.
The nurse admitted undressing her, undressing himself down to his underwear and kissing and cuddling in her bed, telling concerned staff who knocked at her door: “We are busy. Go away.”
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The police were called, and the nurse was suspended from the centre.
The woman said she did not want police involved, and felt that she was not being treated as a human because of her disability.
“[He] treated me with respect and as a normal person. At no time did I feel endangered. I had a wonderful day out.
“[He] did tell the staff we were going to make out. We didn’t hide from anyone. Nobody told us it was wrong. The way we were treated was very wrong.”
The tribunal stressed it did not set out to comment on her right to start a relationship with the nurse, but to investigate whether the nurse was adhering to professional standards.
A clinical nurse consultant told the tribunal there are defined boundaries between patients and nurses so a patient can feel safe.
“As well intentioned as his action of taking her out may have seemed at the time, his breach of professional boundaries is below standard,” the consultant said.
The consultant said that giving a patient excessive amounts of alcohol ignored the risk of injury.
The tribunal also pointed to the nursing code of conduct, which says that consent to sexual activity – including kissing and cuddling – is not a defence because the integrity and trust in the nurse-patient relationship must be upheld.
“Well-intentioned acts do not make improper conduct proper,” the ruling said.
The nurse’s registration would have been cancelled if it was still current, and he is not allowed to register for 18 months.