GP fined $7500 for trying to persuade patient to drop AHPRA complaint

While the conversation was civil, the GP was still persuading the patient to drop the complaint, the tribunal found.

A tribunal has fined a GP $7500 for trying to persuade a patient to drop an AHPRA complaint, despite clearing him of the allegation that he conducted an intimate examination without consent. 

The GP, 72, knew the patient outside of medicine through their mutual involvement with the Vietnamese Community in Australia WA (VCWA), where he was president and the patient was a welfare officer.

According to the State Administrative Tribunal, the GP criticised the patient’s performance at the VCWA in 2020.

After this, her memory of a consultation nine months earlier turned “sinister”, the tribunal found.

She lodged an AHPRA complaint over the consultation, which she had attended for severe abdominal pain, cramping and lower back pain.

The complaint alleged that the GP lifted up the patient’s skirt to examine her, without consent, and failed to organise a chaperone. 

However, the GP told the tribunal that he asked the patient to lift her top so he could examine her abdomen and did not offer a chaperone because it was not an intimate examination. 

After a three-day hearing last October, the tribunal found in favour of the GP, saying it had a “deep sense of unease” about the patient’s evidence. 

The fact she consulted the same GP again and even took a receptionist job at the practice suggested that the run-in at VCWA may have “coloured” her perspective retrospectively, it said. 

However, the tribunal still found the GP guilty of professional misconduct. 

This was because he and his wife approached the patient a month after the AHPRA complaint, following an encounter at a VCWA meeting. 

The GP admitted he said to the patient, “Why did you do this to me?” and “Look at my eyes — do I look like a sex predator?” 

He denied he was trying to dissuade the patient from pursuing the complaint. 

“[He] said he did not raise his voice towards the patient or conduct himself in a manner that would intimidate her at all,” the tribunal findings said.

“He claimed it was a calm and peaceful conversation.” 

The tribunal accepted his description of the conversation’s tone.

However, it said the GP was still discouraging the patient from pursuing the complaint, based on his words, and regardless of his tone.

This was “antithetical” to the Medical Board of Australia code of conduct, which stated that good medical practice involved acknowledging the patient’s right to complain, it said.

Lawyers for the board asked the tribunal to suspend the GP for six months over the conversation. 

But the tribunal settled for a fine instead, pointing to the GP’s unblemished professional record and the fact that a suspension would deny around 8500 Vietnamese-speaking patients access to their long-term doctor. 

The GP’s misconduct was at the “lower end of the spectrum of seriousness for conduct warranting disciplinary action”, it said. 

The conversation with the patient was spontaneous, not a planned attempt to discourage the complaint, it added.

“[He] did not consciously depart from his professional obligations.”

“Rather, while engaging in the conversation, he forgot the standards expected of him and embodied in the code [of conduct].” 

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