Dodgy pasts no barrier for doctors

By Joanne Carroll

Dr Gurusinghe has to be chaperoned.
Photo / Doug Hickman
Dr Gurusinghe has to be chaperoned. Photo / Doug Hickman

At least 10 doctors who have had complaints of serious sexual misconduct upheld against them are back working in hospitals or doctors' surgeries. Advocacy groups say their patients have little chance of knowing their background.

The Medical Council has revealed that six doctors are working under strict conditions after a member of the public contacted the Herald on Sunday to say she believed warnings about a doctor in a GP clinic were not in line with what the council had ordered. The paper has discovered at least another four found guilty of serious sexual complaints who are also back working, without conditions attached to them.

The complaints are historic, some more than 20 years ago, but included children and vulnerable patients who had previously suffered sexual abuse.

In the case that sparked the revelations, signs in the Waitangi Family Practice in the Western Bay of Plenty said patients undergoing obstetric or gynaecological examinations with a doctor had to be chaperoned, but it did not identify the doctor.

When the woman asked, she was told it was Nihal Gurusinghe, and a search of his background among High Court decisions showed he had been struck off the Medical Council's register after he inappropriately and excessively examined female patients while working for the Te Puke Medical Centre in 1985.

His name has since been added to the Waitangi Family sign and it has been changed to say he can't perform any "intimate examinations" without a chaperone.

Gurusinghe's Medical Council case was in relation to 31 incidents involving four female patients whom he took advantage of and touched inappropriately during gynaecological examinations.

He regained his certificate in 1997 and has worked in the current practice since 2005.

Rape Prevention education director Dr Kim McGregor said the public had a right to know about complaints doctors had been found guilty of. She thought the Medical Council was putting the public at risk by not making more information accessible to patients.

She claimed scientific literature showed that the most vulnerable were patients who had already suffered sexual abuse. "Why should they be allowed to practice if they have previously acted sexually inappropriately towards patients? They should not be allowed to be reregistered."

Researcher Rynae Butler, who had tried looking into the background of Gurusinghe, said she found it extremely difficult to find information on doctors who had been found guilty of sexual misconduct. "The information is publicly available but it is not accessible. The Medical Council website should include charges and previous decisions on doctors so patients can make informed decisions."

The council's website includes a register of doctors that can be searched by the doctor's name and includes whether they have conditions on their certificates. However, it does not give reasons why the conditions were imposed or why some doctors later had their conditions removed.

Medical Council spokesman George Symmes said the register was "a work in progress".

Under the current legislation, when the tribunal ordered a doctor's registration be cancelled, it did not mean that a doctor was struck off permanently.

"Once any conditions have been met, the doctor could apply to the Medical Council for registration again. The doctor cannot be registered until they can satisfy the council that the conditions have been met and that they are fit for registration."

Te Puke residents had differing views about Gurusinghe. One said he was a "really nice" man but another said she thought he should not be practising.

"I don't think after doing that dodgy stuff that he should be anywhere near people."

Waitangi Family Practice manager Pia Callaghan said Gurusinghe was an "excellent doctor with a strong following of patients behind him".

All his patients were aware of his past and she had never received any complaints about him, she said. "It's hard to hide in a small community. We have changed the sign.

"We met the Council before hiring Dr Gurusinghe and we have always abided by the conditions of his certificate."

Gurusinghe did not return calls.

Second chance 'privilege'

A doctor working under Medical Council conditions after having a complaint of sexual misconduct upheld against him says he feels privileged to be given a second chance.

Dr John Dannefaerd Nealie was struck off the register after being found guilty of having a sexual relationship with a patient which amounted to sexual abuse in 1997.

He was re-registered and has been working at North Shore Hospital since 2002 under the condition that his treatment is confined to male patients only.

"I am working under supervision. I am complying and trying to get my life back."

"I'm not proud of what happened in the past but I took part in an extensive and expensive programme.

"I'm doing a good job of getting rehabilitated and working hard to work within my boundaries," he said.

- Herald on Sunday

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