Auckland nurse who stole more than $1200 from patient allowed to continue nursing, says Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal.

Auckland nurse Ashwani Lal given second chance to continue nursing after stealing from a patient. Photo / 123rf
Auckland nurse Ashwani Lal given second chance to continue nursing after stealing from a patient. Photo / 123rf

An Auckland nurse who stole more than $1200 from a disabled patient has been given a “once-only second chance” to continue nursing.

Ashwani Lal, who worked at Pukekohe Rehabilitation and Care Unit, had her nursing registration suspended for nine months after being convicted for stealing $1200 from a patient and nearly $300 from a colleague.

Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal decision, published today, said the tribunal believes that Lal had learned her lesson and would not act like this again against a patient or a colleague.

“She must recognise that this is a ‘once-only’ second chance,” the report said.

Lal stole the patient’s credit card to pay $1226.14 in power bills in 2016. On a separate occasion, she stole a colleague’s debit card to pay off $291.93 worth of phone and power bills.

She was convicted for two offences of dishonesty at Pukekohe District Court in 2017, and was sentenced to 100 hours of community service and ordered to pay $1558.07 reparation to the victims.

Lal resigned from her job at Pukekohe Hospital in May 2017 and has not held an Annual Practising Certificate since then.

Instead, she has been working for two different employers as a medical practice receptionist.

“These roles have involved liaising with patients, general administrative tasks and managing payments, cash and banking,” the decision said.

Lal voluntarily disclosed her theft convictions to both employers. Her current employer is aware she is facing this disciplinary charge and Ms Lal produced a reference from her current employer, the report said.

The HPDT report said Lal expressed to the tribunal her strong desire to return to clinical practise and that she is willing to accept any supervision and conditions that might be imposed by the tribunal.

She said she has reflected on her ethical obligations under the Nursing Council’s Code of Conduct and wants to earn back trust and respect.

She would be willing to share her experiences and learnings about trust, integrity and honesty with other trainee nurses. She also hopes eventually to upskill to become a registered nurse.

The Professional Conduct Committee sought cancellation of the Practitioner’s registration, censure and an order for costs.

Counsel emphasised that the primary purpose of cancellation was not to punish but rather to protect the public by upholding professional standards and deterring similar conduct, the report said.

Lal said she was facing mounting debt and a stressful home situation at the time, and felt “extreme” pressure to change this.

A tribunal of five, led by barrister Maria Dew QC, said: “This was a serious case of dishonesty” but considered the cancellation unnecessary.

“We do not see that this is necessary to protect the public or uphold professional standards in this case. The practitioner has demonstrated that she is capable of rehabilitation.

“However, we do consider it appropriate and proportionate to suspend the Practitioner’s registration as an enrolled nurse for a period nine months.

“A period of suspension is necessary to mark the seriousness of the offending and to make clear to the profession that such conduct will have professional consequences,” the tribunal said in its decision.

If Lal chooses to return to practice, she will be required to complete a Nursing Council approved course in ethics within six months and notify prospective employers about this Tribunal decision for a period of 12 months.

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