ZB

Guilty: Doctor's conduct had 'major impact' on family

Author
Tracy Neal, Open Justice,
Publish Date
Fri, 13 May 2022, 6:33pm
A GP has been censured for her part in allowing a close personal relationship with a patient to evolve. (Photo / 123RF)
A GP has been censured for her part in allowing a close personal relationship with a patient to evolve. (Photo / 123RF)

Guilty: Doctor's conduct had 'major impact' on family

Author
Tracy Neal, Open Justice,
Publish Date
Fri, 13 May 2022, 6:33pm

A doctor who continued to treat the wife and children of a patient she was having a personal relationship with has been found guilty of professional misconduct and censured.

The doctor, who has not been named to date, will now have to wait a little longer to find out if she can continue to keep her name a secret.

She was today found guilty of professional misconduct on elements of the charge brought against her, following her part in forging the relationship which was started by the man.

The Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal heard today it had had a major impact on the man's family, notably his former wife, for whom discovery of the relationship signalled the end of the marriage, and for their children.

A GP has been found guilty of professional misconduct, and censured. Stock Photo / 123RF

A GP has been found guilty of professional misconduct, and censured. Stock Photo / 123RF

Tribunal members delivered their decision today, as the doctor and the man's former wife sat motionless, two chairs apart in the hearing gallery. The man was not present at today's decision.

The GP was charged that on September 2018 she entered into a close, personal and/or a sexual relationship with the man who was her patient, as were his wife at the time and their children.

In only a matter of days of this occurring, the GP was said to have ended the doctor-patient relationship with the man, in order to further the personal relationship. In November 2018 she then breached the woman's privacy and doctor-patient confidentiality by sending a message to the man which constituted disclosure of the woman's health information.

The nature of the disclosure was that the GP messaged the man telling him about an appointment the distressed woman had made with the practice after discovery of the relationship between the pair.

The woman laid a complaint which triggered a formal process. In 2020, the Health and Disability Commissioner found the GP failed to maintain professional standards. That then prompted the Medical Council to appoint a professional conduct committee to look at the case.

This committee then brought the charges before the tribunal, which has heard detailed evidence this week in Nelson, before delivering a decision today. It found some of the doctor's behaviour had brought discredit on the profession, which was why disciplinary sanction was warranted.

Tribunal chair Theo Baker said in delivering the decision that after September 5, 2018, it was proved that the doctor entered into a close personal/and or sexual relationship with that man who was, or had been her patient.

Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal chair Theo Baker photographed in 2018. Photo / New Zealand Herald

Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal chair Theo Baker photographed in 2018. Photo / New Zealand Herald

There was not enough evidence to prove the doctor had ended the doctor-patient relationship later that month, in order to be able to further the personal relationship, therefore that part of the charge was not established. It was also relevant that the relationship had been initiated by the man, but it had been pursued by the doctor.

Baker said the tribunal did not condone the complicity, nor did it accept the suggestion the doctor had not made the familial connection, which was raised during the hearing.

Baker said the doctor should have turned her mind to how the communication with the man - described at one point as "flirtatious banter" might have factored into care for his wife at the time. She said the duty of care to a patient was intrinsic to the workings of general practice.

Baker said there was no dispute the patient's privacy had been breached, when the doctor disclosed the woman's health information in the message sent to the man. She said for the reasons found, discredit had been brought upon the profession, which warranted disciplinary sanction.

In delivering the penalty, Baker said more time was needed to explore the implications of lifting the doctor's name suppression, but the censure was enough to express disapproval of her conduct, on behalf of the public and the profession.

The tribunal also imposed conditions which included ongoing supervision for the doctor for three years from a recognised professional from outside the practice where she worked, and at her own cost.

A final decision on costs is yet to be determined.