Russell Blackstock

Russell Blackstock is a senior reporter at the Herald on Sunday.

Medical moves toothless

Rynae Butler was abused. Photo / Visionmedia
Rynae Butler was abused. Photo / Visionmedia

The government's response to revelations that doctors with sexual misconduct findings against them are back at work is not enough, say campaigners.

Health Minister Tony Ryall has announced a review of the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act, which governs the regulatory bodies that register medical practitioners.

The move follows reports in the Herald on Sunday highlighting difficulties in finding information about doctors who are re-registered and have returned to work, in many cases without patients knowing their backgrounds.

The Medical Council has confirmed six doctors are working with conditions on their licences, but the Herald on Sunday has discovered another eight working without conditions despite past sexual misconduct charges or criminal convictions.

"We will be focusing on ensuring the Act still achieves its principal purpose of protecting the health and safety of the public," Ryall said. "That includes processes for dealing with matters of competence, fitness to practice, quality assurance, complaints and disciplinary action."

He added people would be able to make submissions.

But Green Party MP Jan Logie, who has called for a ministerial inquiry, fears the new measures will be toothless.

"I welcome the minister's comments, and it's a start," she said. "However, we need to do a lot more. The Act covers registered doctors but there are many other practitioners, such as therapists and non-registered counsellors, who don't fall under that umbrella.

"Some who have had sexual complaints upheld against them are back working and people are largely unaware of their background."

Logie believed practitioners convicted of sexual misconduct with patients should be dealt with as mainstream sex offenders. They should also complete a rehabilitation programme, before returning to work under strict conditions.

"Most people would be horrified to discover the therapist they are sharing the most intimate details of their lives with is a convicted sex offender," Logie said.

"This is not the crazy, freaky pervert you can tell by looking at. We urgently need a centralised database that covers all health practitioners and that patients can easily access."

Crusader a victim twice

A crusader for transparency around doctors' pasts was a victim of sex abuse.

Tauranga researcher Rynae Butler, 47, said she felt compelled to act after suffering at the hands of two health practitioners.

"The first was a long time ago but the second happened in recent years. This time I complained to the relevant body, and my complaint was upheld," she said.

"I then started investigating how many health practitioners there are in NZ who have been disciplined or convicted of sex offences against patients and was astonished to discover many of them were back working in the same field."

She said she was shocked at how difficult it was to find information and more needed to be done to protect vulnerable patients.

- Herald on Sunday

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf04 at 30 Dec 2014 01:08:24 Processing Time: 748ms