The Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal has suspended a nurse for nine months and ordered her to pay costs after she received 20 criminal convictions in the District Court. The nurse was ordered to pay $3,500 in costs.

The nurse faced 20 convictions for benefit fraud under the Crimes Act.

She received a number of benefits from the Ministry of Social Development over the span of eight years, including the domestic purposes benefit and the sole parent benefit. While the nurse received the benefits she was employed and entered into a de facto relationship.

The nurse failed to mention these circumstances to Inland Revenue and failed to provide details of her income. The nurse filed various forms while receiving the benefits, which failed to disclose these changes.

These factors meant that the nurse was not actually entitled to any benefit. The overpayments spanning approximately eight years totalled $208,945.

The Tribunal had to determine whether the nurse’s actions reflected adversely on her fitness to practice.

The Tribunal has historically found that dishonesty will reflect negatively on a person’s fitness to practice, including in terms of fraudulent claims for government funding. The Tribunal decided that 20 convictions of benefit fraud, amounting to over $200,000, was a serious level of offending and reflected adversely on the nurse’s fitness to practice.

The penalties available to the Tribunal included cancellation or suspension of the nurse’s registration, imposing conditions on her practice, censure and costs to the Tribunal.

The Tribunal considered that there were some mitigating factors to cancelling the nurse’s registration. These included the fact that the nurse was going through a traumatic experience at the time of the convictions, that the convictions happened outside of her work as a nurse, that large parts of the offending occurred before she became a nurse, and that she had several favourable references.

The Tribunal decided to suspend the nurse for nine months and ordered that she be supervised for a period of time upon her return to work. The nurse was also ordered to pay over $3,500 in contribution to the costs of the hearing.

As well as these penalties, the nurse was ordered to attend three sessions with a supervisor of the Nursing Council to focus on the implications of her convictions, was ordered to complete a course in the ethics of nursing, as well as notify any potential future employers of the Tribunal’s decision.

Employees have important obligations that they must undertake throughout their employment. If you are confused about these obligations, it pays to seek advice from a professional with experience in the area.

 

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Alan Knowsley and Hunter Flanagan-Connors