Sexual Misconduct and Chaperones

13 Apr 2017

sara bird

by Dr Sara Bird

Uncomfortable female patient with hand on back

In the wake of allegations of indecent assault on multiple male patients by a Melbourne neurologist, the Medical Board of Australia and AHPRA commissioned a review of the effectiveness of chaperone conditions. The neurologist was facing criminal charges involving indecent assault on a 19-year-old patient. He had been permitted to practise for eight months under chaperone conditions but he was suspended in February 2016 when another patient alleged the neurologist had indecently assaulted him behind a curtain, while a chaperone was present. In July 2016, the neurologist committed suicide.

The report, released on 11 April 2017, recommended:

  • the use of mandated chaperones as an interim restriction in response to allegations of sexual misconduct be abandoned
  • the use of chaperones be replaced by gender-based prohibitions, prohibitions on patient contact and suspensions
  • exceptional cases where chaperone conditions may be used include:
    • where the allegation of sexual misconduct involves only a single patient and
    • the allegations, if proven, would not constitute a criminal offence and
    • the health practitioner had no relevant notification or complaint history
  • greater consistency and development of specialist expertise within AHPRA when handling sexual misconduct cases.

Notifications to AHPRA alleging sexual boundary violations represent 3.5% of all notifications against doctors.

The average age of doctors subject to a notification of sexual boundary violation is 57 years, all male. The prevalence of sexual misconduct by doctors is unknown.

In January 2017, 39 doctors in Australia were subject to chaperone conditions: 20 were GPs, two psychiatrists, two neurologists, one dermatologist, one ophthalmologist and 13 doctors without specialist registration.

The report noted overseas trained doctors, who comprise 33% of the medical workforce in Australia, accounted for 59% of the doctors subject to a chaperone condition.

MDA National provided a submission in response to the review. We are concerned that if suspension or patient contact prohibitions are the only regulatory options while allegations of sexual misconduct are investigated, doctors will be unable to work for prolonged periods, until the matter is resolved. There are potential unjust and harmful outcomes from this blunt regulatory approach.

This blog contains general information only. We recommend you contact your medical defence organisation or insurer when you require specific advice in relation to medico-legal matters.



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