A nurse who accessed confidential medical records including those of people she met online dating has been allowed to continue working by a disciplinary panel.
Helen Kirkpatrick, a former paediatric nurse in Nottingham, accessed 28 different patient medical records without clinical reasons for doing so over a period of 16 months between August 2017 and December 2019, a fitness to practise committee of the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) found.
Ms Kirkpatrick, who worked at Nottingham University Hospitals Trust (NUH) for 10 years between 2009 and 2019, has been reprimanded by the NMC but has not been suspended despite being found to have breached “fundamental tenets of the nursing profession”.
Colleagues were alerted to a possible breach after a complaint was made in April 2019 through the NHS Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS).
An ensuing internal investigation found that Ms Kirkpatrick had accessed the records “without appropriate authority and against Trust policy”, according to a report from the NMC panel.
The panel heard how Ms Kirkpatrick viewed details from the records of her ex-partner and his wife, as well as 24 people she had made contact with on a dating site, including in some cases their home addresses.
The nurse admitted to viewing medical information about people she had met online, which she claimed was for her own protection and that of her child, and those of her ex and his wife, she said, “to ascertain if their respective home addresses had been consistent during this time period”.
The report states: “Your rationale for accessing the patient records was to provide a safety element for your online dating, as you are a single parent and you wished to keep her child safe.”
Ms Kirkpatrick, who ‘ceased her employment with NUH in December 2019, was found guilty of misconduct at a disciplinary hearing of the NMC held at the start of July this year, but not suspended for her actions.
The report of the committee states: “The panel finds that patients were put at indirect risk of harm as a result of your misconduct. Your misconduct had breached the fundamental tenets of the nursing profession and therefore brought its reputation into disrepute.
“The panel were of the view that if you breach confidentiality and trust, patients are less likely to confide in you with relevant information that may be required as part of the care.
“As a nurse, you explore sensitive and distressing information and for that reason you must have the confidence of patients, you must not abuse or misuse the information and your patients’ need to be confident that you will handle their information sensitively, correctly and professionally, which you had failed to do.”
Acting on its “statutory duty to protect the public and maintain public confidence in the profession”, the panel has issued Ms Kirkpatrick with a Conditions of Practice Order, meaning she is subject to a number of tests and checks, including extra scrutiny and supervision when checking patient records.
The panel had the power to suspend Ms Kirkpatrick, but, the official report states, took the view that “to impose a suspension order would be disproportionate and would not be a reasonable response”.
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Michelle Rhodes, Chief Nurse at Nottingham University Hospitals Trust said: “We have very clear policies in place around confidentiality and take misconduct investigations very seriously. Our teams took action as soon as a complaint was made and the case was reported to the Nursing and Midwifery Council.”