09 Sep 2022
A doctor has been disqualified from practising for four years for engaging in professional misconduct by breaching sexual boundaries with a patient.
Nicholas Salvatore Forgione has also been reprimanded and ordered to pay $11,000 in costs in relation to a sexual relationship he maintained with a patient over five years while he was working as a general practitioner.
In its decision on 8 August 2022 the State Administrative Tribunal of Western Australia (tribunal) found that Dr Forgione’s professional misconduct was ‘sexual misconduct of a most serious nature which strikes at the heart of the doctor-patient relationship’.
The tribunal heard that Dr Forgione was an experienced medical practitioner, having been registered for 45 years.
The patient had visited the medical practice for about 20 years before the sexual relationship began and had attended more than 300 consultations at the practice, including at least 116 consultations with Dr Forgione.
The tribunal found the relationship started at a time when the patient was vulnerable in regard to her anxiety, depression and the breakdown of her marriage, all of which was known to Dr Forgione.
Dr Forgione continued the doctor-patient relationship during the five years of the sexual relationship and failed to transfer the patient's care to another practitioner.
In its decision, the tribunal stated that a reprimand would ‘serve to notify and remind members of the public, patients and practitioners alike that personal relationships between a practitioner and patient are not acceptable’.
The tribunal found, and Dr Forgione admitted, that his conduct breached the Medical Board of Australia’s code of conduct and sexual boundaries guidelines.
‘This was a very serious transgression of the professional boundaries that doctors are required to maintain to promote a patient's care and protect both patients and doctors. The transgression is aggravated by the fact that Dr Forgione continued to treat the patient during the course of their relationship,’ the tribunal found.
‘We are of the view that the public must be protected from medical practitioners who transgress professional boundaries by engaging in a sexual relationship with a patient. It is not appropriate for a medical practitioner to take advantage of the power imbalance that exists in the doctor-patient relationship and exploit a patient sexually,’ the tribunal added in its findings.
Dr Forgione surrendered his registration in 2019 and is now retired.
The full tribunal decision of Medical Board of Australia and Forgione can be found on the AustLII website.