Psychiatry registrar’s registration cancelled over relationship with vulnerable patient
Summary: It is never acceptable to have a sexual relationship with a current patient, even if the relationship is consensual. Boundary violations will be seen as particularly egregious where the patients are vulnerable and where doctors are seen to cause further harm by attempting to deny or conceal the relationship. A case involving a psychiatric registrar illustrates the potential consequences.
Tuesday, 5 September 2023
Key messages from the case
It is never acceptable to have a sexual relationship with a current patient, even if the relationship is consensual. Boundary violations will be seen as particularly egregious where the patients are vulnerable and where doctors are seen to cause further harm by attempting to deny or conceal the relationship. A case involving a psychiatric registrar illustrates the potential consequences.
Details of the decision
Ms A attended several appointments with Dr C, a psychiatry registrar, at a public clinic. After one appointment, they met accidentally in the carpark and ended up talking for some time before going back to her home where they shared a meal and a bottle of wine. The next day he called her at 2.00 am and went back to her house where they had consensual sex.
Two days later, Ms A was admitted to hospital after a suspected overdose. Dr C did not disclose his contact with Ms A to the treating team or make any notes in her medical record.
Sometime later Ms A told her counsellor about the encounter.
The regulator found Dr C had committed serious professional misconduct.
Dr C’s registration was cancelled.
The regulator was particularly concerned that Dr C continued to deny any wrongdoing and maintained that Ms A was a stalker and that her evidence could not be trusted due to her psychological ill-health. This meant Ms A was exposed to unnecessary distress during the proceedings.
Dr C was found to have abused his special position of trust with a patient whom he knew to be vulnerable. He had actively pursued the relationship despite knowing it was inappropriate.
He put Ms A at risk of harm, through the relationship and by failing to disclose potentially significant clinical information following her suspected overdose.
It is never acceptable to have a sexual relationship with a current patient, even if you believe the relationship is consensual.
If you do find yourself in a situation where boundaries have blurred, seek professional medico-legal advice. Never attempt to conceal a boundary violation.
References and further reading
Avant factsheet – Boundary issues
Medical Board of Australia Guidelines – Sexual boundaries in the doctor-patient relationship
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