On 20 May 2022 by way of an audio-visual link the Health Practitioner’s Disciplinary Tribunal (the Tribunal) heard two charges of professional misconduct laid by the Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) appointed by the Nursing Council of New Zealand against Ms Yan Zheng, a registered nurse of Auckland, (the nurse).
The charges alleged that:
- That while employed as a registered nurse with the Auckland District Health Board Bureau Service, the nurse compromised the health and safety of patients and colleagues in that she failed to self-isolate for a period of 14 days following overseas travel to Melbourne, Australia from 15 – 19 March 2020 when she knew, or ought to have known, that the New Zealand Government had made an order on 14 March 2020 that from 15 March 2020 anyone entering New Zealand (except those arriving from the Pacific) must self-isolate for a period of 14 days. In particular:
- The nurse accepted and worked a morning shift at the Auckland Hospital Te Whetu Tawera Adult Acute Mental Health ward on Sunday 22 March 2020;
- The nurse accepted and worked a night shift at the Auckland Hospital Te Whetu Tawera Adult Acute Mental Health ward on Tuesday 24 March 2020; and
- The nurse accepted and worked a morning shift at the Auckland Hospital Te Whetu Tawera Adult Acute Mental Health ward on Saturday 28 March 2020.
- That on 28 March 2020, when questioned about the above allegation, the nurse was dishonest in that she provided false statements to Auckland District Health Board regarding her overseas travel. In particular:
- When contacted by phone at about 7.41pm and directly questioned about her overseas travel, the nurse denied she had travelled overseas; and
- When contacted by phone at about 8.20pm and requested to provide her passport number for the purpose of verifying her travel overseas, the nurse again stated that she had not travelled overseas.
The conduct alleged in Charges 1.0 and 2.0 amounts to professional misconduct pursuant to section 100(1)(a) or (b) of the Act and particulars 1.1 to 1.3 and 2.1 to 2.2 either separately or cumulatively, are particulars of that professional misconduct.
The nurse admitted that the particulars of Charge 1 separately each amounted to professional misconduct. The nurse also accepted the particulars of Charge 2 charge represented a departure from professional standards, but that the particulars of Charge 2 did not separately each reach the threshold of disciplinary sanction. The hearing proceeded on an agreed summary of facts.
The nurse was engaged with the Auckland District Health Board Bureau (the Service) from September 2016 until her resignation on 7 April 2020. The Service notifies registered nurse members of available shifts which they can accept or ignore.
On Sunday 15 March 2020, the Covid mandate imposed a period of 14 days isolation period for anyone entering New Zealand except those from the Pacific Islands.
The nurse travelled to Melbourne, Australia on 15 March 2020 to attend a cosmetic injector course, returning to New Zealand on 19 March 2020. Prior to leaving, the nurse had accepted shifts via the Service to undertake on her return. On her return she worked three shifts on 22 March 2020, 24 March 2020 and 28 March 2020 at the Adult Acute Mental Health Ward, Auckland Hospital.
When advised that the nurse was working shifts instead of self-isolating, the Senior Nurse Manager of Mental Health Auckland District Health Board (ADHB) rang the nurse to discuss the allegation. The nurse denied travelling to Melbourne. The nurse was asked for her passport number so that it could be checked with Immigration. Later that day, the nurse rang the Senior Nurse Manager and admitted she had travelled to Melbourne. The nurse apologised and said she was under significant financial pressure.
A preliminary decision was made to terminate the nurse’s services with the Service. The nurse resigned from her role with the Service on 7 April 2020.
The Tribunal found the two charges established.
Charge 1: the Tribunal was satisfied that when taking the three particulars together, the nurse’s conduct amounted to malpractice and negligence and brings discredit to the profession under ss100(1)(a) and (b) of the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act. The conduct in this Charge was a significant departure from accepted standards and warranted disciplinary sanction.
Charge 2: the Tribunal considered it necessary to mark out the nurse’s dishonesty that was evident in the calls the ADHB Manager. Dishonesty is not acceptable. However, the Tribunal saw this conduct as part of the misjudgement that occurred in accepting the three work shifts. It is likely the nurse panicked on the phone and made a further poor decision to lie. The Tribunal noted the nurse did ring the ADHB Manager back a little more than an hour later to admit her dishonesty.
The Tribunal considered that Charge 2 when taken together with Charge 1 amounted to professional misconduct under ss.1—(a) and (b) and is conduct that is likely to bring discredit to the nursing profession.
The Tribunal ordered:
- a fine of $5,500;
- conditions following resumption of practice;
- payment of $8,303.70 amounting to 35% of the total costs of the hearing.
The Tribunal directed publication of the decision and a summary.