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GP reprimanded for failing to make a mandatory notification of sexual boundary breach by colleague

Summary: If a patient discloses a sexual relationship with a colleague, doctors must make a mandatory notification, if they form a ‘reasonable belief’ that the conduct has occurred. It is important to consider the evidence and seek advice before taking action. However unreasonably delaying, or failing to act can have professional consequences, as this case illustrates.

Tuesday, 25 July 2023

Key messages from the case

If a patient discloses a sexual relationship with a colleague, doctors must make a mandatory notification, if they form a ‘reasonable belief’ that the conduct has occurred. It is important to consider the evidence and seek advice before taking action. However unreasonably delaying, or failing to act can have professional consequences, as this case illustrates.

Details of the decision

This decision follows a finding of professional misconduct against Dr A’s employee (Dr K) relating to a sexual relationship between Dr K and a patient of the practice.

Mandatory notification

Ms P was a patient of the practice and had previously consulted Dr K. When Ms P consulted Dr A, she disclosed that she had been in a sexual relationship with Dr K.

Dr A saw Ms P for multiple consultations over the next 5 months and they discussed the effect of the relationship on the patient’s health. Eventually Dr A referred the patient to a psychologist, but Dr A did not make a mandatory notification about Dr K. He did not make any attempt to address Dr K’s conduct with him and allowed him to continue working at the clinic.

Ms P’s psychologist made a mandatory notification.

Boundary violation

Ms P also claimed that in her consultations with Dr A, he had made inappropriate physical contact and inappropriate comments of a personal nature – commenting on her physical appearance and similarity to Dr A’s former girlfriend.

Dr A acknowledged the conduct.

Outcome

The tribunal concluded Dr A’s conduct constituted professional misconduct.

Dr A was reprimanded and had conditions imposed. He was required to attend education on clinical communication, prohibited from having any role as a supervisor, directed to undertake mentoring, and ordered to pay legal costs.

Key lessons

You are required to notify Ahpra if you reasonably believe another practitioner has been or is engaging in sexual misconduct in connection with their practice.

However, it is a serious step to make a mandatory notification. You must have a reasonable belief – which is stronger than speculation and should be based as far as possible on actual, known events.

If a patient discloses a sexual relationship with your colleague, do not ignore it. You can take time to consider the evidence and seek advice before you make a notification, but make sure you do not delay unnecessarily. Ensure the patient is supported.

See Ahpra’s Guidelines for mandatory notifications and seek advice from Avant if you have concerns about a colleague and are considering making a mandatory notification.

References and further reading

Avant factsheet – Mandatory notifications about health practitioners

Ahpra - Guidelines: Mandatory notifications about registered health practitioners

Ahpra - Resources – helping you understand mandatory notifications

Medical Board of Australia - Guidelines: Sexual boundaries in the doctor-patient relationship

For more information or immediate medico-legal advice, call us on 1800 128 268, 24/7 in emergencies.

Download case study

GP reprimanded for failing to make a mandatory notification of sexual boundary breach by colleague (PDF)

Disclaimers

Scenarios in this publication are based on Avant claims experience to date. Certain information has been de-identified to preserve privacy and confidentiality. This publication is not comprehensive and does not constitute legal or medical advice. You should seek legal or other professional advice before relying on any content, and practise proper clinical decision making with regard to the individual circumstances. Persons implementing any recommendations contained in this publication must exercise their own independent skill or judgement or seek appropriate professional advice relevant to their own particular practice. Compliance with any recommendations will not in any way guarantee discharge of the duty of care owed to patients and others coming into contact with the health professional or practice. Avant is not responsible to you or anyone else for any loss suffered in connection with the use of this information. Information is only current at the date initially published. © Avant Mutual Group Limited 2023 riskiqcase109 07/23 (DT-3292)

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