Medical Board of Australia - Tribunal cancels doctor’s registration for conduct online

Tribunal cancels doctor’s registration for conduct online

27 Jun 2022

A medical practitioner has had his registration cancelled for conduct that was ‘outrageous’ and ‘far beyond the standards expected’ of the profession.

Medical Board Chair Anne Tonkin said she welcomed the outcome. ‘Doctors are respected and trusted members of the community. When that trust is eroded by unacceptable and abhorrent conduct, whether in person or online, that can have serious consequences for patient safety.’

Ahpra CEO Martin Fletcher added, ‘We will not hesitate to take action against practitioners who erode that trust and put public safety at risk.’

In early 2016, and then again between May 2018 and April 2019, Dr Christopher Kwan Chen Lee posted a series of gruesome images and abhorrent messages, as well as confidential patient information, on the Internet (predominantly on an Internet forum).

On 9 June 2019, the Medical Board of Australia (the Board) took immediate action to suspend Dr Lee’s registration. He has not practised since that time.

Dr Lee admitted to making the posts that were ‘utterly unacceptable’ and agreed that his conduct amounted to professional misconduct and that he should be reprimanded. However, he disagreed with the Board’s submission that his registration should be cancelled.

The Board argued that because of the seriousness of his misconduct, Dr Lee’s registration should be cancelled, and he should be disqualified for applying for registration for a total of six years. Taking into account the period of time that Dr Lee had already been suspended, this would be until 9 June 2025.

Dr Lee argued that he should be suspended for a further period of between six to 12 months (to late 2022 or mid 2023) with conditions imposed on his registration when he returned to practice. He argued that suspension rather than cancellation was more appropriate because his conduct was causally linked to his then undiagnosed mental health condition which he is now receiving treatment for. He also submitted that he had developed insight and remorse, and that his treating practitioners considered him safe to return to practise with conditions.

The Board disagreed stating that his ‘unusual interest’ in the information he posted was not explained by his health condition and as such, did not significantly reduce his moral culpability.

Further the Board submitted that while Dr Lee’s treating practitioners considered him safe to return to practice with conditions, those opinions were based on the management of his condition, and ‘did not address relevant issues before the Tribunal.’

The tribunal in reaching its decision stated that it was a difficult case.

‘On the one hand, the conduct was ‘so outrageous and so far beyond the standards expected of – and the trust reposed in – the medical practitioners that it is hard to see that Dr Lee could ever successfully return to practice in a manner that would assuage community concern and protect the reputation of the profession.’

However, it also found that with the totality of the medical evidence that Dr Lee’s medical condition had played a material role in his conduct and as it is ‘now being treated and managed effectively, and given his relatively young age (35), it would be unfortunate if he were never able to return to practice.’

Accordingly, it found that while it was necessary to cancel Dr Lee’s registration, the total disqualification period should be four and a half years, expiring on 9 December 2023. It stated that while any further registration of Dr Lee was a matter for the Board, it hoped that it would engage constructively with Dr Lee on what sort of evidence it may require to achieve the necessary level of comfort for him to return to practice, with or without conditions, in a medical setting in early 2024.

The full decision can be found on Austlii

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Page reviewed 27/06/2022