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Surge in health professionals reporting colleagues for sexual misconduct

Eight notifications were made about the conduct of physiotherapists, while a further seven were levelled against Australian psychologists by their colleagues.


The figures are reflective of an upward trend in health professionals reporting their fellow clinicians with laws introduced in 2010 that compel them to report colleagues who put patients at risk.

Further figures obtained from AHPRA show there were 209 notifications about “sexual boundary violations”, including complaints about sexual misconduct and inappropriate sexual comments made against medical practitioners in 2018/19, compared to 141 last year, and 108 complaints in 2016/17.

Australian Medical Association vice-president Dr Chris Zappala said the vast majority of the more  than 120,000 doctors across the country were delivering optimum care to patients.

He attributed a rise in the reporting of sexual misconduct by both patients and health professionals to a number of factors including the #metoo movement, greater awareness among patients about their rights and better community understanding surrounding sexual assault.

“Behaviour that might have been awkwardly tolerated a couple of decades ago is thankfully now bang out of order and more and more people are comfortable in saying that is not appropriate,” he said.

“Within our profession, we obviously do not condone any kind of misconduct to patients and we are committed to seeing that change.”

Dr Zappala said junior doctors undertook training programs aimed at creating a healthy workplace culture and which delved into the dangers of bullying and sexual harassment.

AHPRA has come intense scrutiny for the length of time it takes to complete investigations, particularly allegations of sexual misconduct.

In August, former Hawthorn doctor Con Kyriacou, 76, who was accused of sexually assaulting more than 50 female patients, was found unfit to stand trial and will instead be the subject of a special hearing to determine whether he committed the alleged offences.

Police were not made aware of Dr Kyriacou’s alleged crimes until they were revealed by The Age in a report that prompted dozens more women to come forward.

Several alleged victims accused the medical industry watchdog of protecting the reputation of doctors and the broader medical industry at the expense of patients’ interests and safety.

AHPRA’s annual report shows about one in seven cases being investigated has been open for longer than 12 months, down from more than one in five cases last year.

More than 12,400 health practitioners had notifications made about them nationally, an increase of almost 14 per cent from the previous year. But the rates of those reported was low, equating to just 1.7 per cent of all registered health practitioners.

Seventy seven health practitioners had their had registration cancelled or suspended following an investigation by AHPRA in the last year.

The top three reasons for general notifications made to AHPRA related to clinical care (46.3 per cent), medication issues (10.7 per cent) and health impairment (6.5 per cent).

About 70 per cent of complaints were closed without any action taken against the practitioner while 8 per cent led to conditions being placed on their registrations and more than 7 per cent received a caution or reprimand.

Victoria and NSW had highest number of complaints overall, accounting for about 34 per cent of all complaints nationally.

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