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‘Mental health nurse breaches Code by having intimate relationship with prison inmate’

The Deputy Health and Disability Commissioner has referred a mental health nurse to the Director of Proceedings for breaching professional boundaries by having an intimate relationship with a prison inmate.

Dr Vanessa Caldwell found the nurse breached Right 4(2) of the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers’ Rights which gives people the right to services that comply with legal, professional, ethical, and other relevant standards.

Dr Caldwell recommended the Nursing Council of New Zealand determine the necessary conditions to be imposed on the nurse such as supervision, monitoring and training, should she return to practice.

Dr Caldwell said, “the nurse’s relationship with Mr B breaches fundamental ethical standards, given the power imbalance between clinician and patient. I do not consider that such a relationship being consensual alters this fact. This power imbalance will always mean there is the potential for abuse of the nurse’s professional position and harm to the health consumer.”

The Nursing Council of New Zealand’s Code of Conduct states that nurses must maintain professional boundaries between themselves and health consumers, and that nurses must not engage in sexual or intimate behaviour or relationships with health consumers in their care. The nurse has been suspended from practice and her name has been removed from the register of nurses.

Health and disability service users can now access an online animation to help them understand their health and disability service rights under the Code.


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