The term medical negligence doesn't just cover injuries sustained from mistakes on the operating table or emergency room – this phrase also extends to inappropriate professional misconduct.
This was evident in a recent case brought before the Civil and Administrative Tribunal, where a practitioner had allegedly been professionally negligent with a patient.
What did the applicant submit?
The applicant of the trial, the Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC), alleged the respondent (the healthcare practitioner) breached the boundaries of confidentiality with a number of former patients.
While it concluded there was no sexual relationship between the parties, it discovered text messages sent by the respondent to a patient were of a suggestive sexual nature. Furthermore, it learnt that the practitioner had been inappropriate during one breast examination. Therefore, it concluded that the respondent had violated the practitioner/patient relationship.
For the above reasons, the applicant submitted that the only appropriate sanction was to cancel the registration of the respondent as a medical practitioner.
How did the practitioner respond?
In response to the complaint, the practitioner expressed shame and remorse for his conduct. He partly blamed his actions on his mental health, claiming depression increased the perception of being lonely. The practitioner wholeheartedly accepted any disciplinary action the Tribunal felt appropriate to behest upon him.
What did the Tribunal decide?
When considering all evidence, the Tribunal referred back to section 3A of the National Law.
"The protection of the health and safety of the public must be the paramount consideration (when considering an application to practise medicine)."
It emphasised how the aforementioned disciplinary sanctions were not in place to punish a practitioner who had been found guilty of unsatisfactory professional conduct – rather to protect the public.
While it acknowledged that the practitioner was aware of his actions and constituted himself as unsatisfactory professional conduct, the Tribunal did refer back to the patients who were in contact with the respondent. It noticed a clear theme within the group – all were female and all had a history of and sought treatment from the respondent for mental health issues. The Tribunal noticed the women were more vulnerable and therefore were an easier target for the practitioner.
As the practitioner had not received therapy or taken any appropriate action to rectify the issues at hand, the Tribunal was satisfied that the respondent did not meet the requirements of a medical practitioner under the National Law. His registration was cancelled with a non-re registration period of three years.
If you've sustained injuries as a result of medical negligence – either physical or psychological – get in touch with the legal experts at Gerard Malouf & Partners to find out how we can help.