Nurse has registration cancelled following racist social media posts

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A New Plymouth Nurse who made a public post on social media saying all Māori nurses do is have meetings all day and “sit on their fat arses”, has had her registration cancelled for the next two years.

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Photo: 123rf

The New Zealand Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal considered two charges against the conduct of Deborah Kathryn Hugill, commonly known as Debbie Newport, and ruled that several of her posts to the New Zealand Nurses Organisation Facebook Page in May last year were highly offensive, racist and damaged the mana of Māori nurses and patients in Taranaki.

The Facebook page is public, and anyone from the public can access it.

Some of Hugill’s posts to the page include “Māori are by far the laziest and cunning underhanded I have worked with”, and “Māori predominantly get more hand outs and freebies in Nursing Education”.

These comments were made in response to a news article from an online news article posted to the page.

A number of experienced nurses presented evidence to the tribunal, describing the posts as racist, bigoted and directed at Māori.

One nurse said the posts targeted Hugill’s previous employers, colleagues and patients in a way that breached confidentiality, and showed a lack of cultural respect.

Hugill tried to justify her actions in her own evidence.

She said the news article was thought provoking and raised memories for her. She also said the comments posted were “true” as they were taken from her own experiences and things she had witnessed during her career as a registered nurse.

She denied being racist or making racist comments. However, under cross examination she accepted that some of her comments were “awful and atrocious”.

But it’s not the first time she’s been stood down for making offensive posts online.

In 2018 the nurse had her practising certificate suspended for making similar remarks, but continue to work at two aged care facilities.

At the time, she failed to undertake the cultural competence training required of her by the Council.

The tribunal says the failure to observe a suspension order is an extremely serious matter and fell well below the standards expected from a registered nurse.

Deborah Hugill has been censured and ordered to pay 15 percent of the total costs of both the Professional Conduct Committee and the tribunal.

The tribunal has also imposed conditions that must be satisfied before she can reapply for registration.

Māori nurse Naomi Waipouri heard about the posts through colleagues at the time, and said they left her speechless.

“I guess the words are indescribable, disappointed that that would come out of the mouth of a nurse and hurtful,” she said.

Waipouri is in her second year as a nurse in Wellington and said the behaviour was a safety concern – not just for staff but for their patients too.

“If those comments were put up on Facebook, it just makes me concerned about how their practice would be and how they would interact with Māori patients and Māori nurses,” she said.

“When you see your Māori leaders being targeted like that it is really discouraging and utterly disgusting and it makes you want to not be a nurse anymore.”

New Zealand Nurses Organisation Kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku said they may just be social media posts but they have real-world consequences.

“Not only is that nurse’s comments bringing in to disrepute the reputation and the profession of nursing, but it also makes people less likely to go in for a service if the nursing staff are talking about you behind your back,” she said.

She said the penalties did not go far enough.

“How do we actually do any restorative practice with this woman if she comes back into the work force in two years time? I’d like to have guarantee that there is robust training to ensure that culturally inappropriate behaviour isn’t continuing.”

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