Charges dropped against practice nurse in vaccine fraud case

Anastasia Tsirtsakis

8/12/2021 2:01:20 PM

The case, which involved a nurse being accused of falsely administering a COVID-19 vaccine, raised alarm across the medical community.

A nurse preparing a vaccine.
Police prosecutors said there was not enough evidence to charge the nurse accused of falsifying the administration of a COVID-19 vaccine. (Image: AAP)

One month after Christina Hartmann Benz was accused of fraudulently recording that a teenage patient had received a COVID-19 vaccine, the charge has been dropped.
The registered nurse appeared in front of Perth Magistrates Court on Tuesday, 7 December, where the police prosecutor said the charge had been withdrawn, with police later citing a lack of evidence for the decision. 
‘Officers from the Breach Investigation Team conducted further inquiries into the matter,’ a WA Police spokeswoman said.
‘As a result of those inquiries, further information was obtained and it was deemed there was insufficient evidence to continue a prosecution.’
Ms Hartmann Benz, who was employed at a general practice in Perth owned by former RACGP WA Chair Dr Sean Stevens, had been taking part in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
It had been alleged the nurse requested permission to vaccinate any family and friends who visited the practice, after which staff noticed a number of people requesting to see Ms Hartmann Benz specifically.
Despite it being standard practice to have a second practitioner present, the nurse would reportedly close the door behind herself and the patient, citing privacy concerns.
This raised suspicion among colleagues, and when a similar request was made by the father of a 15-year-old patient while attending a respiratory clinic where the registered nurse was working that weekend, Dr Stevens was alerted.
The practice owner insisted on observing Ms Hartmann Benz administer the vaccine to the teenager.
It was alleged in court that the nurse inserted the needle and then tried to obscure Dr Stevens’ view, before disposing the syringe still containing the vaccine and recording the vaccination in the clinic’s records under another staff member’s name.
Dr Stevens immediately reported the incident to police, and Ms Hartmann Benz was charged on 8 November and later granted bail.  
When the case was first reported, the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) warned that consequences for such an act, if proven, could be significant.
‘Generally speaking, in line with public health messaging, we believe vaccination is a crucial part of the public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic,’ a spokesperson had told newsGP.
‘Practitioners providing advice on or administering vaccines should do so safely and professionally.
‘The consequences of providing an exemption when it is not warranted may be significant. It can undermine the public’s confidence in Australia’s COVID-19 vaccination strategy and impact community safety.’
Similarly, Professor Mark Morgan, Chair of the RACGP Expert Committee – Quality Care (REC–QC), had told newsGP that such an incident could have far-reaching consequences.
‘Undermining a public health effort by issuing a false vaccination certificate or information actually affects all of us … and it’s something we can’t possibly condone,’ he said.
‘[But] the vast majority of practice nurses, practice administrators and GPs are absolutely focused on best patient care with dedication, with skill, with lots of knowledge – and are ideally placed to provide that care.’
As part of Ms Hartmann Benz’s bail, conditions included not working as a registered nurse or administering COVID-19 vaccines in any capacity.
Following the court’s ruling, those conditions will no longer apply.
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