On 29 - 30 June 2016 the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal considered a charge laid by the Director of Proceedings against Mr N, physiotherapist (the Physiotherapist).
The charge alleged that the Physiotherapist breached professional boundaries by having a sexual relationship at or about 12 hours after the 9th treatment on his patient and that behaviour amounted to malpractice and/or brought discredit to the physiotherapy profession.
The hearing proceeded on an agreed summary of facts basis and evidence from experts was called by the Director. The Physiotherapist subsequently gave evidence as additional background informtion to the agreed summary of facts.
The Tribunal considered this case on the basis that the formal clinical relationship between the Physiotherapist and the patient concluded at the end of the 9th consulation and that the Physiotherapist had clarified with his former patient that their formal clincal relationship had concluded.
In the Tribunal's view the question that arises when considering a sexual relationship with a former patient is not whether the formal clinical relationship ended within any particular time before the sexual relationship commenced but that at the time the practitioner entered into the sexual relationship with the former patient the circumstances were such that any power imbalance arising from the professional relationship had the potential to influence the patient's judgment.
In this particular case, the Tribunal was satisfied that the imbalance of power which existed during the course of the formal clinical relationship continued after the conclusion of the final consultation and there was therefore a real risk of the Physiotherapist being able to exploit the relationship. Accordingly, the Tribunal found the charges were made out and professional misconduct had been established and warranted disciplinary sanction.
The Tribunal censured the Physiotherapist; imposed a fine of $5000; imposed conditions on his current practice and ordered he pay $20,673 as a contribution to costs of the Tribunal and DP.