On 28 and 29 July 2020 the Tribunal considered two charges of professional misconduct laid by a Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) against Ms Deborah Kathryn Hugill (also known as Debbie Newport) of New Plymouth, registered nurse (the Nurse).
Charge 1 alleged that on or around 4 May 2019 the Nurse posted offensive and/or inappropriate and/or derogatory comments about Māori on the New Zealand Nurses Organisation’s Facebook page after a link to a news article from an online news website was posted to the site. She accused Māori nurses in Taranaki of being lazy, dishonest and unprofessional.
Charge 2 alleged that during the period 18 July 2019 to 15 August 2019, the Nurse worked as a registered nurse at two aged care facilities when she knew or ought to have known that her practising certificate had been suspended. It was suspended by an order of the Nursing Council (the Council) dated 10 July 2019 following a section 69 hearing for interim suspension under the HPCA Act 2003.
Charge 2 listed 13 instances as sub particulars of the Charge where it is alleged the Nurse practised while suspended.
The Nurse already had conditions imposed on her practice by the Council after she made similar social media posts in 2018. She failed to undertake the cultural competence training required of her by the Council at that time. Charge 1 was a repeat of inappropriate conduct for which she had already been reprimanded by the Council.
The Nurse admitted Charge 1 at the outset of the hearing and that her social media posts on 4 May 2019 were inappropriate and offensive. At the hearing she expressed some regret for this conduct, albeit in a halting fashion. She said that the posts were impulsive and a knee jerk reaction to a media article. However, the Nurse went on to post further similar comments on her Facebook in October 2019, shortly after she attended a PCC hearing regarding the May 2019 Facebook posts at which she apologised for her conduct.
At the start of the hearing the Nurse said she wished to defend Charge 2. However, by the conclusion of the evidence she also admitted Charge 2.
The Tribunal gave its decision on liability and penalty at the completion of the hearing on 29 July 2020.
The Tribunal found Charge 1 established as malpractice, being immoral and unethical conduct and a neglect of professional duty; bringing substantial discredit to the nursing profession. The posts were highly offensive and damaged the mana of Māori nurses and patients in Taranaki. The posts made racist generalisations about Māori nurses and offensive and derogatory generalisations about other nurses and two key nursing organisations that represent nurses. The conduct was serious and fell well below the standards expected of any registered nurse or health professional and warrants disciplinary sanction.
The Tribunal found Charge 2 established as malpractice, negligence and likely to bring discredit to the nursing profession, warranting disciplinary sanction. The failure to observe a suspension order is an extremely serious matter and fell well below the standards expected from a registered nurse.
- Censured the Nurse;
- cancelled the Nurse’s registration from 29 July 2020;
- ordered that the Nurse may not reapply for re-registration for a period of two years from 29 July 2020;
- imposed conditions that must be satisfied before she may reapply for registration;
- ordered the Nurse to pay 15% of the total costs of both the PCC and the Tribunal.
The Tribunal directed publication of its decision and a summary.
The Tribunal noted it has no jurisdiction to order personal apologies. However, the Nurse was invited by a witness at the hearing to engage in a restorative process outside the Tribunal. The Tribunal encouraged the Nurse to take up that opportunity, particularly if she wishes to re-engage with the nursing profession in the future.