The key issue
The key issue in this case is boundary violations.
The respondent treated the patient on about 30 occasions between 2004 and 2009, before a consultation in October 2009 during which they expressed a mutual interest in one another and the respondent advised the patient that he would not be able to continue being her general practitioner if they engaged in any social meetings.
The following month, the pair commenced a romantic relationship during which they went on holidays together with their respective children, purchased a property in which they co-habited with their respective children and maintained a sexual relationship. The relationship lasted about 2 ½ years.
During the course of their relationship, the respondent treated the patient on 39 occasions for various matters, including preparing a mental health treatment plan which included referring her to a psychologist for co-habitation and interpersonal conflict with him. The patient consulted the respondent on a further seven occasions after the relationship ended.
Both parties submitted that the conduct constituted professional misconduct, which the tribunal agreed with.
The tribunal agreed with the parties’ submission that a fine of $15,000 was appropriate. In doing so, the tribunal noted that the patient was vulnerable and there was a clear risk that she might be harmed.
In mitigation, the tribunal noted that the respondent had no disciplinary or criminal history, showed insight, and has continued to practise for more than 8 years since the conduct without incident.
The tribunal accepted that the reprimand and fine adequately addressed considerations of denunciation, specific and general deterrence and maintenance of professional standards and therefore met the protective purposes of sanction.
The tribunal also noted that preclusion from practice would be punitive given the delay in bringing proceedings.
The tribunal decided that the respondent behaved in a way that constitutes professional misconduct, be reprimanded and be fined $15,000.
Significant mitigating factors, a failure by the regulator to bring proceedings in a timely manner and flawless practice subsequent to the relevant conduct may have implications as to penalty for practitioners found to have breached professional boundaries.
The decision Health Ombudsman v Veltmeyer  QCAT 77 can be read here.