22 December 2023

Former Wagga nurse reprimanded for inappropriately accessing patients’ private medical records

| Oliver Jacques
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Wagga Wagga Base Hospital.

Wagga Wagga Base Hospital. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

A former Wagga Wagga Base Hospital nurse has been reprimanded for inappropriately accessing the private medical records of six patients, but she will not be prevented from future work in the health sector due to her actions.

The oversight body Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) filed an application for disciplinary findings to be made against Emma McCallum with the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT), an independent body outside the court system that settles disputes.

This followed Ms McCallum being convicted of offences relating to accessing restricted data at Wagga Local Court in October 2022.

Ms McCallum worked at Wagga Wagga Base Hospital for six years before resigning in July 2021. Her registration to practise nursing lapsed the following year.

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According to a judgement published in late November 2023, NCAT “reprimanded” Ms McCallum and put in place orders that she be required to attend ongoing counselling and be mentored for a period of 12 months if re-registered.

However, NCAT also found she is “not currently unfit” to practise nursing and decided it would not cancel or suspend any future registration by her to practise nursing.

“[Her] conduct was a relatively short-lived lapse in judgment which occurred at a difficult period in her life and we do not have any concern that she would be likely to behave in a similar fashion again,” the judgement found.

Ms McCallum worked as a registered nurse for four and a half years before taking up the position of Project Lead Aboriginal Health in September 2020.

The NCAT decision stated a patient complained that Ms McCallum had accessed her medical records in June 2021. The Murrumbidgee Local Health District (MLHD) then received a further five complaints raising a similar concern.

An MLHD investigation concluded that Ms McCallum had accessed the records of six people for reasons not related to her role of Project Lead Aboriginal Health, a job that did not involve directly providing health care to patients.

In an interview conducted for the investigation, she alleged that she was subjected to threatening and intimidating behaviour from two of those people.

She said she didn’t know what she hoped to gain by accessing their patient records.

Evidence from a retired psychologist indicated Ms McCallum “had experienced a number of major traumatic professional and personal events and psychological stressors” in the lead up to her actions.

“While the conduct Ms McCallum engaged in was very serious, Ms McCallum has taken full responsibility for her conduct and did so immediately,” the NCAT judgement stated.

“While she was clearly in a difficult period of her life at the time of the conduct, she has not sought to rely on that to seek to justify her conduct in any way.

“Her competency as a nurse is not in issue. Ms McCallum is clearly a proud Aboriginal woman who is passionate about improving health outcomes for her Aboriginal community.”

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The MLHD did not answer a question from Region on whether it has put any new processes in place to protect patient privacy since findings were made against Ms McCallum.

But the NSW Government body provided the following statement: “Murrumbidgee Local Health District (MLHD) is committed to protecting the privacy of patient and staff information. All NSW Health staff are required to abide by a code of conduct, which sets standards of ethical and professional conduct. This includes maintaining the security of all confidential or sensitive information and records.

“MLHD acknowledges the decision of the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal following action by the Health Care Complaints Commission.”

The MLHD also did not answer our question on whether it would consider re-employing Ms McCallum if she re-registered as a nurse.

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