Nurse struck off after indecently assaulting pregnant patient

A nurse who indecently assaulted an “incredibly vulnerable” pregnant patient has had his registration cancelled and has been censured by medical authorities.

Linto Thomas’ deregistration followed his conviction on two counts of indecent assault related to incidents that occurred in 2016.

Thomas, an Indian national, had been a registered nurse in New Zealand since 2014. In July 2016 he was working at Palmerston North Hospital when a woman who had been admitted for a suspected ectopic pregnancy was assigned to his care.

Thomas helped the woman back to her room after a trip to the bathroom, before cutting off an armband and rubbing her arm in a massage-like motion.

He then asked if she was sore and began rubbing her stomach. He then asked if she was bleeding from her vagina before touching her intimately.

In the second incident, the woman awoke in pain just after 10pm. Thomas answered her bell call, administered pain relief, and then stroked her arm and shoulder and touch her breast.

At a judge-only trial in the Palmerston North District Court, Thomas was found guilty of two counts of indecent assault. He was sentenced on July 30, 2018, to 10 months’ home detention.

At the time Judge Stephanie Edwards told Thomas he would never practise as a nurse in New Zealand again.

The Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal has now made that official, ruling that the indecent assault convictions mean Thomas is not fit to practise nursing, and is cancelling his registration.

The Nursing Council of New Zealand’s professional conduct committee brought the case against Thomas.

The assaults - committed against a woman who was “incredibly vulnerable” - constituted a significant departure from the standards reasonably expected of a registered nurse, the committee’s lawyer Nick Davis said.

In its September decision, published on Tuesday, the tribunal agreed, saying inappropriate sexual conduct “fundamentally undermines the trust and confidence that the community must have in a nurse and all registered health practitioners”.

The victim was found to have suffered considerable harm from the incidents.

“When she stayed in hospital, she was insistent on the door being closed so she knew who was coming in and out of her room.

“She doubted her ability to be a mother, questioning her ability to protect her baby if she could not protect herself.”

The victim felt the events had ruined what should have been a happy time in her life, expecting her first child, the tribunal said. She had received counselling but had not been able to move on.

At the district court trial Thomas had expressed sympathy for the victim and the emotional harm she felt but maintained he had not committed the offences, and did not express remorse.

References provided at Thomas’ trial said he was well regarded by those who knew him, and his offending was described as out of character.

As well as deregistering Thomas, the tribunal censured him to mark its “condemnation of this conduct and the gravity of the offending”.

It did not rule on future reregistration but said if Thomas were to seek reregistration the circumstances of the disciplinary proceeding could be considered in full.

However, the tribunal would not impose conditions for reinstatement as it was a decision for the Nursing Council.

Thomas’ wife, who is also a nurse, was eight months pregnant at the time of sentencing and had returned to India.

Thomas is believed to have followed her but it is not known if he is now in India as he has not been communicating with the professional conduct committee or his lawyer.

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