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The Herald on Sunday editorial

Herald on Sunday editorial: Sleaze has no place in health

If sexual abuse by a health professional is never to be treated as a temporary, correctable lapse but always as a danger to patients, Parliament may have to act. Photo / Getty Images
If sexual abuse by a health professional is never to be treated as a temporary, correctable lapse but always as a danger to patients, Parliament may have to act. Photo / Getty Images

Doctors have the highest place in public trust. Previous generations placed so much trust in their doctor that explanations were not expected, treatments never questioned.

Not any more. Doctors today are accustomed to acting only with a patient's informed consent, which requires explanations of all treatment options, second opinions whenever desired, and a rigorous regard for ethics.

Patients trust doctors because patients are informed and respected.

For these reasons, it is dismaying to read our report today on the way the profession in New Zealand is dealing with - or rather, hiding - sexual misconduct with patients.

It is shocking enough any health professional would take sexual advantage of a patient - sick or worried people who have to trust a doctor's professionalism in order to have the bodily examinations they require.

Conscious of that trust, the last thing a true professional would do would be to abuse it.

Many male doctors these days go out of their way to avoid the slightest suspicion or misunderstanding on the part of a female patient, by having a nurse always present at an intimate examination.

Yet, as Olivia Carville reports, more than 90 health practitioners have been found guilty of sexual misconduct over the past 10 years. The public ought to know their names and they should not be still in practice. But that is not what happens in all cases. More than a third of them have been granted permanent name suppression by the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal and the Human Rights Tribunal or the, in the worst cases, the courts.

Dozens of them have been allowed to return to work after attending a corrective course or under supervision by colleagues. Their patients do not know who they are. And after a designated period, the fact that disciplinary action has been taken is wiped from the Medical Council's public register.

The Medical Council can do only what is permitted within its statutory powers. If sexual abuse by a health professional is never to be treated as a temporary, correctable lapse but always as a danger to patients, Parliament may have to act.

- Herald on Sunday

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