This suggests that nurses are often running the risk of regulatory sanctions, without realising they are doing so.
The poll of 3,650 nurses found 9% thought that, in some cases, love could justify starting a relationship with a current patient. Up to 16% said they knew of a colleague who had started a sexual relationship with a patient during the time that person was in their care, and 6% admitted they had, at some time, been on a date with a current patient.
The findings come despite guidance from the NMC and its overseeing body, the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence, which says such behaviour is never acceptable (NT News, 22 January, p8).
Many respondents thought some flexibility was needed. ‘Both [nurses and patients] are human first with human desires and weaknesses,’ said one. ‘In our work we should be non-judgemental, so maybe that should apply to our private lives too.’
However, this view was not shared by academics and unions who cited the vulnerability of patients. ‘I’m shocked by this,’ said Peter Jones, a lecturer at the Institute of Health Sciences at London’s City University. ‘This is abuse, and abuse of power.’
RCN head of policy, Howard Catton, described the findings as ‘very concerning’. ‘There really isn’t any flexibility over this issue. What we’re talking about is the vulnerability of patients and professionals in a position of power,’ he said.
Unions called for better education of nurses on the issue and even more stringent guidance from healthcare regulators.
The survey also revealed that 5% of respondents had been in a sexual relationship with a patient after the therapeutic relationship had ended. Of these, more than a third had married or gone on to live with that patient.