29 Jul 2022
A tribunal has suspended a nurse’s registration for three months for breaching professional boundaries with a patient and misleading her employer to the extent of their relationship.
Trigger warning: Some readers may find this article distressing. If you are experiencing distress, please visit the NM Support website or contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 for help.
Ms Jaclyn Stratton worked as a registered psychiatric nurse at the Latrobe Regional Hospital (LRH) in the Community Residential Care Unit between July 2016 and April 2018. In February 2017, Ms Stratton became regularly involved in the care and treatment of patient X. They built a rapport and in January 2018, while still under Ms Stratton’s care, they started a personal relationship.
The patient’s vulnerability, with a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder and chronic suicidal ideation with self-harming behaviours, was well-known to Ms Stratton at this time.
The relationship continued until July of 2018. During this time, Ms Stratton and patient X had regular personal contact, attended social activities together and with patient X’s children, personal text messages (using false names), and a sexual relationship.
In April 2018, Ms Stratton disclosed to her manager that her therapeutic relationship and clinical judgment in relation to patient X, had become compromised.
Ms Stratton was interviewed by LRH in May 2018 and stated the friendship had started 4-6 weeks prior and only consisted of a few coffee catch ups and a phone call. When asked if it had evolved into something more, Ms Stratton described it as a friendship that had ceased. She told LRH that the patient was accepting and understanding that their relationship had to end, and that contact had ceased.
LRH accepted Ms Stratton’s statements and her apology, gave her a warning, and required her to complete education, including a reflective paper.
It was not until August of 2018, that the true nature of the relationship was revealed to LRH when patient X reported it. After a second investigation, it was found that the relationship had not ceased when Ms Stratton claimed it had, and patient X was involved in the completion of a reflective paper that Ms Stratton was directed to submit after the first investigation.
The Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia (NMBA) referred Ms Stratton to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (the tribunal) for breaching professional boundaries with a patient and providing false and misleading information to her employer about said relationship.
The tribunal found that Ms Stratton had engaged in a way that constitutes professional misconduct for both allegations and ordered that Ms Stratton:
The tribunal noted “In the context of a boundary violation that included sexual misconduct, Ms Stratton’s dishonesty prevented LRH from adequately evaluating and managing the situation including the risk to the patient. In the context of a vulnerable patient threatening self-harm if the relationship did not continue, complete honesty was essential and, we consider, urgent. By lying, Ms Stratton put her own professional protection above protecting the patient from harm, and thereby put the best interests of the patient last.”
The tribunal’s decision was published on 30 June 2022 and is available on the Austlii website.