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Inappropriate relationship with patient (07HDC11761)
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(07HDC11761, 30 April
Medical officer in general practice ~ Registered nurse ~
Health Centre ~ Sexual relationship ~ Exploitation of a patient and
employee ~ Rights 2, 4(2)
A community health trust complained that one of its employees, a
registered nurse, had disclosed a sexual relationship with her
employer, a sole practice medical practitioner who was contracted
to the trust.
The nurse first met the medical officer when she consulted him
for an immigration health check. He kept in contact with the woman
and she took her sister to him for a prescription renewal. The
following year, the nurse commenced work for the medical officer as
his practice nurse. Shortly after this, they started a sexual
relationship. During this time she consulted the medical
officer professionally on three occasions when he took a cervical
smear, and sent urine specimens for laboratory testing for
her. The medical officer denied that the woman was his
patient or that he had a sexual relationship with her.
It was held that the woman was vulnerable both as an employee
and a patient, and that the medical officer had exploited her
vulnerability and breached professional boundaries and ethical
standards, breaching Rights 2 and 4(2).
The medical officer was referred to the Director of Proceedings.
The Director decided to lay a charge before the Health
Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal which heard the matter in
November 2008. In its decision dated 26 January 2009 the Tribunal,
by a majority, held that there was a doctor/patient relationship
and that a sexual relationship had been established. The charge of
professional misconduct was therefore proved. The Tribunal (also by
majority) imposed a period of 18 months suspension and conditions
on the medical officer's practice. He was censured, fined and
ordered to pay costs.
The medical officer appealed the decision to the High Court
which overturned the findings of the Tribunal. The Court held that
there was insufficient evidence of an ongoing doctor/patient
relationship. It found that the sexual relationship developed out
of the employment relationship and that the medical officer then
provided medical services to someone he was intimately involved
with. The Court did not consider this amounted to professional
misconduct and allowed the appeal.
The Tribunal decision can be found at: