A PILL-popping, coke-snorting nurse claims cocaine traces found in her latest failed drug test were not from drug use but having sex with a drug user.
Despite this “improbable” excuse, Tara Seymour successfully convinced the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal to markedly reduce the frequency of drug tests imposed on her by the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia.
Ms Seymour has been nursing since 2011 at the John Faulkner Private Hospital where she is said to be a “passionate” nurse with an excellent record.
Ms Seymour has previously admitted occasional social drug use, including taking pills of unknown substance while holidaying in Thailand early last year and inhaling a powder she assumed was cocaine at a 50th birthday party in April last year.
But the former MLC student and mother of one denied taking any illicit drugs prior to her most recent failed drug tests last November revealing a “pattern of recent use of cocaine”.
Ms Seymour told VCAT that on the night before and morning of the test she had sex with a “very sweaty” man and drew the tribunal’s attention to articles discussing the possibility of drug contamination from bodily fluids.
She said she did not know her lover was a drug user but after she tested positive he had told her that he had used cocaine that night and morning and denied giving her cocaine without her knowledge.
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Ms Seymour said she did not wash or go to the toilet after having unprotected sex in the morning but carried out household chores and went out for lunch before attending for her random urine test at about 2pm.
Chemical pathologist Julia Chang, appearing for the Board, said it was theoretically possible to record a positive urine test from cross contamination during the exchange of bodily fluids but she considered this was “highly improbable” and unlikely to produce the levels recorded by Ms Seymour.
Dr Chang said she felt it would require half a litre of semen or sweat to get a similar result and said no semen was detected in the urine sample.
Ms Seymour’s suspected drug abuse was first drawn to the attention of the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Authority back in 2014 but no action was taken. A second anonymous source raised the alarm again in March last year and two months later a drug test found traces of methamphetamine, amphetamine and non-prescribed sedative zolpidem in Ms Seymour’s hair.
The Board suspended her for a month and on return, placed her under supervision and imposed Group 1 frequency drug testing _ 12 random urine samples a month (at a cost of $66 per test) and quarterly hair analysis ($825 each).
Ms Seymour was suspended again almost immediately after providing two diluted urine samples. Then, after a string of clean tests, the board placed Ms Seymour on less restrictive Group 2 frequency tests _ four urine screens a month and quarterly hair tests _ despite believing she “may have an impairment that could detrimentally affect her capacity to practise”.
When Ms Seymour tested positive for cocaine last November the Board cautioned her about her unsatisfactory professional conduct and reinstated Group 1 testing.
Ms Seymour asked VCAT to review that decision.
She complained Group 1 testing had been inconvenient, intrusive, humiliating and financially and emotionally costly and argued Group 3 frequency _ once monthly urine testing and quarterly hair testing _ was sufficient.
The Board argued Group 1 testing was needed to protect the public and ensure Ms Seymour remained drug free.
VCAT found Dr Chang’s evidence persuasive and was sceptical of Ms Seymour’s story.
“Despite the high regard within which she is viewed by her peers, Ms Seymour has a history of not being frank with the Board about her drug use when questioned,” Deputy President Heather Lambrick found.
When first caught, Ms Seymour denied any drug use before admitting to “recreational” use.
VCAT accepted Ms Seymour had undertaken Group 1 tests for 2 1/2 months without negative results, that there was no direct evidence she had worked while drug-affected or put patients at risk and that she had her colleagues support and a good work record.
Ms Lambrick said the aim was not to punish but to use the minimum regulatory force appropriate to manage the risk posed to protect the public and maintain community confidence.
While finding Group 3 testing insufficient, VCAT substituted the Board’s more onerous Group 1 testing order with less frequent Group 2 tests saying they met all the Boards concerns.
“The screening remains random and would readily detect whether or not Ms Seymour was compliant,” Ms Lambrick found. The condition will be reviewed in there months.