30 Apr 2019
A tribunal has maintained conditions imposed on a medical practitioner’s registration by the Medical Board of Australia (the Board) which prevent the practitioner from providing treatment to family members except in emergencies.
The practitioner can’t be named for legal reasons.
Conditions were imposed after the practitioner’s spouse was admitted to hospital suffering severe pain. The nature of the spouse’s medical condition required a high level of care, with the spouse regularly visiting another general practitioner in addition to receiving treatment from their partner. The practitioner disclosed to medical staff they were their spouse’s primary general practitioner which resulted in a notification to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).
After an investigation, the Board took action in February 2018 to impose the condition specifically prohibiting the practitioner from treating family members and others with whom the practitioner had a close personal relationship, except in emergency situations. If treatment was required in an emergency, the practitioner had to notify the Board within 24 hours.
The practitioner appealed to a tribunal seeking removal of the condition so the practitioner could resume treating the spouse. The matter focused on section 3.14 of Good medical practice: a code of conduct for doctors in Australia, ‘Personal relationships’.
The Board submitted that clause 3.14 requires practitioners to avoid treating family members and others with whom they have a close personal relationship unless it is unavoidable to do so. Counsel for the practitioner argued that there were exceptions to this rule, submitting that the words ‘wherever possible’ indicate the code does not mean the treatment of family members is inappropriate in all cases.
In its decision dated 20 March 2019, the tribunal found that the code clearly stated that medical practitioners should strive at all times to avoid treating family members and others with whom they had a close personal relationship.
The tribunal noted that it was not required to show that harm has or will arise if a practitioner treats his or her family member but that the rule is ‘about a particular relationship and a response to it’. It found this interpretation was supported by the Australian Medical Association Code of Ethics clause 2.1.6 which requires members to ‘avoid providing care to anyone with whom you have a close personal relationship, where possible.’
The tribunal upheld the Board’s conditions preventing the practitioner from providing treatment to family members except in emergency situations.