08 May 2019
GP reprimanded and suspended for six months after engaging in a relationship with a patient.
A tribunal has suspended the registration of a specialist general practitioner from Queensland after she engaged in a sexual relationship with a patient and then communicated with the patient after he terminated the relationship when the doctor should have known that this would or could aggravate and distress the patient.
On 27 March 2019, the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (the tribunal) reprimanded the medical practitioner, suspended her registration for six months and imposed conditions on her registration after finding she had engaged in professional misconduct.
Concerns about the practitioner were first made to the Office of the Health Ombudsman (OHO) in 2014 which referred the matter to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).
The complainant had been a patient of the medical practitioner from about mid-September 2009 until mid-April 2011. The doctor had treated the patient for various reasons including depression, anxiety and difficulty sleeping. The doctor had prescribed the patient medication for his depression and anxiety and had referred him to a psychiatrist.
The personal and sexual relationship with the patient occurred between mid-February and 5 July 2011.
In mid-February 2011, the medical practitioner saw the patient privately, outside of the medical practice, and over the next several months they engaged in a sexual and personal relationship. After this relationship started, the medical practitioner consulted with the patient on one occasion and also organised a referral letter for the patient.
The medical practitioner admitted the allegations against her, including accepting that she should have refused to consult with the patient and asked him to see another doctor.
After the patient terminated the relationship in July 2011, the medical practitioner continued to contact the patient by text message, including making derogatory and belittling remarks about him.
The medical practitioner accepted that she knew, or ought to have known, that contacting the patient after their relationship had ended would or could aggravate and/or cause the patient distress.
The Board and the medical practitioner agreed that the tribunal should make a finding of professional misconduct and proposed that the sanction should be a reprimand, a six-month suspension and the imposition of conditions requiring mentoring and education. The tribunal also agreed that the medical practitioner should pay the Board's costs.
The tribunal acknowledged that there were mitigating factors. These include that the medical practitioner had not engaged in such conduct before, it was more than seven years since the misconduct occurred and the delay was not due to the practitioner. Additionally, the conduct could not be described as predatory, the doctor’s judgement at the time was compromised due to her own vulnerabilities, she had demonstrated insight and there was little risk of reoffending. She had also made full and frank admissions at an early stage of the investigation and co-operated in the tribunal proceedings.
The tribunal considered that the boundary violation by the practitioner by engaging in a sexual and personal relationship with a patient was aggravated by sending the patient belittling and derogatory text messages. The tribunal regarded such conduct as disgraceful.
The tribunal found that the medical practitioner’s behaviour constituted professional misconduct which is conduct that is substantially below the standard reasonably expected of a registered health practitioner.
The tribunal made a non-publication order prohibiting the publication of the identity of the practitioner and patient.
The decision is not yet published on the Austlii website.