New Zealand psych nurse loses license; was convicted in wife's death

May 20, 2014

A former Tauranga nurse convicted and jailed for manslaughter after his wife died following a methadone overdose, has been struck off, censured and ordered to pay costs by the New Zealand Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal.

Ian Hamer was convicted and sentenced to ten years with a minimum non-parole period of five years on the manslaughter charge at the Rotorua High Court in December 2003.

An appeal against the conviction and sentence to the Court of Appeal was dismissed.

The tribunal views registration as a privilege carrying with it obligations to act in a way which is in compliance with the moral and ethical standards normally observed by those who practice in that area, says tribunal chair Maria Dew.

“Mr Hamer omitted, without any lawful excuse, to undertake his legal duty to provide his sick wife with the necessaries of life and this omission caused her death and ultimately the conviction for manslaughter,” says the decision made in April.

Hamer, a registered psychiatric nurse since 1984, was on the methadone programme for an opium addiction when his wife took an overdose of his methadone following an argument.

At about 1am on February 9 2002, Mrs Hamer consumed between 100 and 150mg of her husband's methadone. For a non-tolerant user of methadone, approximately 50mg can be a fatal dose, the court was told.

Hamer, a registered psychiatric nurse considered to have an increased knowledge of the risk of a high dose of methadone, didn't call an ambulance for his wife until 6.30pm – more than 17 hours after she overdosed.

Trial judge Rhys Harrison didn't accept Hamer's claim he fell asleep for 12 hours after Mrs Hamer consumed the methadone. He was satisfied that the prolonged failure to call an ambulance was not only grossly negligent, but was deliberate.

He says Hamer noted his wife's lips were blue from a lack of oxygen at 1pm, not 5pm as claimed and had propped her up with pillows as a deliberate step, taken with the knowledge that it would aggravate the brain damage she may have suffered, and that it had that effect.

He was satisfied Hamer knew of his wife's dire medical condition and knew that the longer he waited the more likely it was that she would deteriorate and die.

Mrs Hamer spent about three weeks in hospital, initially in Tauranga then in Hamilton.

The former Malaysian national discharged herself on 1 March 2002 and resumed living with Mr Hamer before being readmitted to hospital on 4 March 2002. Her condition continued to deteriorate and she was transferred to a hospital in Malaysia where she died on 1 June 2002.

“Mr Hamer's conduct towards his wife while she was vulnerable and unable to care for herself ultimately caused her death,” says the decision.

“The fact that Mr Hamer was a registered nurse of considerable experience substantially aggravates the offending in the mind of this Tribunal.

“The principal purpose of the Act is to protect the health and safety of members of the public and the Tribunal considers this can only be properly done by ordering Mr Hamer's deregistration as a registered nurse.”

Hamer wasn't worked as a nurse since 2002. He was also ordered to pay $5,531 as a share of costs.

The complaint to the tribunal was made in 2013, the hearing was in February 2014 and a decision was made in April.

Source: "Nurse struck off over wife’s death,", May 19, 2014.


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