Aims. This paper critiques the deliberative processes used by the discipline panels of an Australian statutory nurse regulating authority when appraising the alleged unprofessional conduct of nurses and determining appropriate remedies.
Background. Little is known about the nature and effectiveness of the deliberative processes used by nurse regulating authorities (NRAs) disciplinary panels established to appraise and make determinations in response to allegations of unprofessional conduct by nurses.
Methods. A qualitative exploratory descriptive/pragmatic research approach was used. Data were obtained from two case-orientated sampling units: (1) 84 Reasons for Determination made between 1994 and 2000 and (2) a purposeful sample of 12 former and current nurse regulating authority members, nurse regulating authority staff and a nurse regulating authority representative who had experience of disciplinary proceedings and/or who had served on a formal hearing panel. Data were analysed using content and thematic analysis strategies.
Results. Attitudinal considerations (e.g. whether a nurse understood the ‘wrongness’ of his or her conduct; accepted responsibility for his or her conduct; exhibited contrition/shame during the hearing; was candid in his or her demeanour) emerged as the singularly most significant factor influencing discipline panel determinations. Disciplinary action is taken appropriately against nurses who have committed acts of deliberate malfeasance. NRAs may not, however, be dealing appropriately with nurses when disciplining them for making honest mistakes/genuine practice errors.
Conclusion. Traditional processes used for appraising and disciplining nurses who have made honest mistakes in the course of their work need to be substantially modified as they are at odds with the models of human error management that are currently being advocated and adopted globally to improve patient safety and quality of care in health care domains.