A panel of the Health Practitioner’s Disciplinary Tribunal convened in Nelson on 10 to 13 May 2022 to hear a charge laid by a Professional Conduct Committee (“the PCC”) appointed by the Medical Council of New Zealand (“the Council”) against Dr O (“the Doctor”).
The Charge alleged that the Doctor:
- Entered into and continued a close personal and/or sexual relationship with Mr N, in circumstances where:
- Mr N was or had been a registered patient of the Doctor; and/or
- Mr N’s wife and children were registered patients of Doctor; and/or
- Ended her doctor-patient relationship with Mr N for the purposes of furthering a close personal and/or sexual relationship with him; and/or
- Disclosed Mrs N’s health information to Mr N and in doing so:
- Breached Mrs N’s privacy; and/or
- Breached doctor-patient confidentiality.
The PCC charged that the conduct alleged amounted to professional misconduct in that, either separately or cumulatively, it amounted to malpractice or negligence in relation to the Doctor’s scope of practice pursuant to section 100(1)(a) of the Act; and/or has brought or is likely to bring discredit to the profession, pursuant to section 100(1)(b) of the Act.
A copy of the full charge can be found in the Tribunal’s decision.
The Doctor worked at the Health Centre for almost 16 years. The N family were enrolled at the Health Centre and Mr N saw the Doctor as a patient three times. Mrs N and their children also attended appointments with the Doctor over a three-year period.
In September 2018, the Doctor received a Facebook friend request from Mr N which she deleted. The Doctor saw and spoke to Mr N on multiple occasions where he worked, and they would communicate on Facebook. The Doctor told the patient she was not comfortable with him messaging her socially while seeing him as a patient. At the end of September 2018, the Doctor transferred Mr N’s care to another practitioner.
Mrs N became aware of the relationship in mid-October 2018 and sought medical treatment for the stress-related symptoms she was having, caused by this news. Her appointment was with the Doctor. At this point the Doctor raised the relationship with her colleagues and said that she did not feel comfortable treating Mrs N. Mrs N was seen by a different doctor that day. The Doctor sent Mr N a text message about Mrs N’s appointment in breach of her privacy.
By October 2018 the Doctor felt she was developing some feelings toward the patient, and they continued to message over Facebook. They saw each other on multiple occasions and by January 2019 Mr N had moved out of the family home and his relationship with the Doctor became physical.
The Tribunal found aspects of the charge established.
Particular 1a was established. However, the Tribunal did not find it amounted to professional conduct. Mr N was not a vulnerable patient, there was no suggestion of improper contact between the parties during consultations and the intensity of their relationship did not develop for a further 9 weeks after transfer of Mr N to another practitioner. It was Mr N who initiated and pursued the relationship although this does not condone the Doctor’s complicity in the relationship. She should not have put her own needs first.
Particular 1b was established. Particular 2 is not established. The Tribunal found there was insufficient evidence to show that at the time she transferred Mr N to another doctor it was for the purpose of commencing a close or personal relationship. Particular 3 was established but in itself did not reach the disciplinary threshold. When considered with particular 1b it does.
The Tribunal imposed:
- Conditions on practise for a period of three years.
- Disclosure to any future employer, practice partner of the Tribunal decision for two years.
- Payment of 30% of the costs of the Tribunal and PCC totalling $31,234.03.
The Tribunal directed publication of the decision and a summary.