Deputy Health and Disability Commissioner Rose Wall today released a report finding a community support worker in breach of the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers’ Rights (the Code) for entering into a sexual relationship with his client.
A woman in her sixties had a history of mental illness, and received assistance for her weekly routine from a community support service, the support worker’s employer.
The support worker began assisting the woman in 2017, helping her with cooking meals, shopping for groceries, attendance at various appointments, among other things.
They became friends, then developed an intimate relationship which lasted for eight months. The support worker continued to provide services to the woman concurrently with the sexual relationship. Eventually the woman disclosed the relationship to another employee of the support service, and the support worker was stood down and later resigned.
Ms Wall considered that the support worker had breached ethical standards by entering into a sexual relationship with his client.
"[A]ny relationship between a service user and a healthcare provider, whether or not the healthcare provider is registered, is likely to involve a power imbalance and a degree of vulnerability on the part of the service user, and the trust that this vulnerability will not be abused" Ms Wall said.
"When a healthcare provider engages in a sexual or intimate relationship with a client, fundamental ethical standards are breached. I do not consider that such a relationship being consensual alters this fact."
Ms Wall considered that the relationship between the woman and her support worker did not indicate broader systems or organisational issues at the support service, and found that the service had acted appropriately when it had discovered the relationship.
Ms Wall referred the support worker to the Director of Proceedings, to consider whether any proceedings should be taken. She recommended that the support service use this case for the wider education of its support workers, and that if the support worker returned to practice, he undertake thorough training in professional boundaries.