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Victorian doctor suspended for three months for personal relationship with patient

08 Aug 2019

A tribunal has suspended the registration of a Victorian medical practitioner after he engaged in personal and intimate relations with a patient.

On 4 July 2019, the Victoria Civil and Administrative Tribunal (the tribunal) found that Dr Shaun Rathnayake had engaged in professional misconduct by having an inappropriate professional relationship between August 2015 and October 2015 with his patient and/or ex-patient (Ms X).

On 14 January 2016, the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) received a confidential notification about Dr Rathnayake’s conduct with Ms X. After investigating, the Medical Board of Australia (the Board) referred the matter to the tribunal on 29 June 2018.

Ms X consulted a patient with Dr Rathnayake at the medical centre where he practised, on seven occasions between 7 January 2015 and 23 August 2015. During the consultation on 23 August 2015, Dr Rathnayake provided Ms X with his personal phone number.

Between approximately August 2015 and November 2015, Dr Rathnayake admitted that he had:

  • communicated with Ms X via telephone on various occasions, for reasons unrelated to Ms X's clinical care
  • shared details of his personal life with Ms X
  • had coffee with Ms X in public, for reasons unrelated to Ms X’s clinical care
  • had dinner with Ms X
  • went out for drinks with Ms X on at least one occasion, and on at least one of those occasions he danced, hugged and kissed Ms X, and
  • booked a hotel room, where he stayed overnight with Ms X.

The relationship between Dr Rathnayake and Ms X ceased in or around November 2015.

Dr Rathnayake admitted his conduct constituted professional misconduct in that he transgressed the boundaries that should, and ordinarily do, delineate the medical practitioner-patient relationship, by engaging in a personal and intimate relationship with his patient and/or former patient.

The Board's Good medical practice: a code of conduct for doctors references the importance of maintaining professional boundaries and provides that ‘a good doctor-patient partnership requires high standards of professional conduct’ and that ‘this involves…recognising that there is a power imbalance in the doctor-patient relationship, and not exploiting patients physically, emotionally, sexually or financially.’

The tribunal held that Dr Rathnayake showed some insight into his conduct and how the transgression came about. However, it noted that no material was provided that indicated that Dr Rathnayake had gained insight into the effect his transgression had on Ms X and the reputation of medical practitioners and the profession in general.

The tribunal accepted that Dr Rathnayake was unlikely to reoffend and took into account that he had been practising since the notification about him was made and that there had no further complaints about him. Dr Rathnayake had also completed a program which addressed the topics of professional and sexual boundaries with the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP).

While the tribunal accepted that the proceedings were conducted on the basis of no sexual relationship between Dr Rathnayake and Ms X, it found that there was an escalating pattern of behaviour that included both emotional intimacy and physical intimacy. This was regarded as a serious breach of the standard expected of a medical practitioner.

The tribunal reprimanded Dr Rathnayake and suspended him for three months from 1 August 2019, with mentoring conditions imposed once he returns to practice with a review period of 18 months.

The decision is published on the Austlii website.

Page reviewed 8/08/2019