Auckland nurse Ashwani Lal who stole from patients faces fresh investigation

An Auckland nurse who stole from a patient is facing a fresh investigation after claims from her boss that she didn’t disclose her prior offending.

Earlier this week, the Herald reported a Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal decision revealing a nurse who stole more than $1200 from a disabled patient being allowed to continue nursing.

“This is a once-only second chance,” barrister Maria Dew QC said in the report.

However, the Nursing Council is re-investigating the case after her employer came forward saying she never disclosed her criminal convictions.

The nurse, Ashwani Lal, has been working as a medical receptionist at Papakura-based medical centre, The Wood Street Doctors, since September last year.

The HPDT report said Lal had disclosed her theft convictions to her current employer but the medical centre’s practice manager told the Herald that was not true.

“We were totally shocked when we read the article,” said the manager, who spoke on the condition her named wasn’t used.

She said management couldn’t be sure if it was a “weird coincidence” that their employee had the same name, was also from South Auckland, and was also working as a medical receptionist so they contacted the Nursing Council.

“We didn’t want to accuse her without knowing for sure.”

The Nursing Council’s deputy registrar Clare Prendergast told the Herald the council was aware of the issues and Lal’s employer had been in contact.

“The council is investigating these issues,” Prendergast said.

Lal told the Herald she didn’t tell her current employer because she had been trying to get a job for the past five years and was having no luck.

“I was scared.”

She said after the Herald story was published her employer asked her if it was her and she said it wasn’t.

“I told them it wasn’t me, it was just someone with the same name as me. I was scared…..the next day I told them the truth,” she said.

Before the story came out, Lal had resigned from her job at The Wood Street Doctors after being offered a job at Blockhouse Bay Medical Centre. Her last day is today.

But her new workplace, the Blockhouse Bay Medical Centre, has since rescinded her job offer. The Herald contacted Blockhouse Bay Medical Centre for comment but they declined saying it was a “confidential employment matter”.

Employment law expert Blair Scotland said under New Zealand law an employee or an applicant did not have to disclose criminal convictions unless the employer asked.

“I always encourage employers to do a free Ministry of Justice criminal history check….’trust but verify’,” Scotland said.

When the Herald asked the practice manager at The Wood Street Doctors why they didn’t ask about criminal convictions, she said: “We didn’t want to judge, she told us she was sick and really needed a job so we gave her one.”

The tribunal report also said Lal’s current employer provided a reference to the tribunal – but the practice manager said that they hadn’t provided one.

Lal said it was her previous employer, East Tamaki Healthcare, who provided the reference.

East Tamaki Healthcare did not respond to a request for comment.

Dishonesty convictions

In 2016, Lal was working as a nurse at Pukekohe Rehabilitation and Care Unit when she 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 and sentenced to 100 hours of community service and ordered to pay $1558.07 reparation to the victims.

The HPDT report said Lal has not held an Annual Practising Certificate since then and 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.

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

She said she had reflected on her ethical obligations under the Nursing Council’s Code of Conduct and wanted 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 hoped 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.

The 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 of 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.”

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