Medical examinations performed without consent are a disciplinary matter, says the Health and Disability Commissioner.
A response that follows a NZ Medical Journal article that today revealed 14 medical students reported carrying out sensitive examinations without patients knowing they're still in training.
More than 20 University of Auckland students - who had worked at general practices and hospitals around the country - told researchers they felt uncomfortable with the situation and said some senior clinicians responded by saying it was too difficult to explain to "uneducated" patients.
Health and Disability Commissioner Anthony Hill said informed consent was the foundation of all medical treatment and sensitive examinations, in particular, required robust informed consent from the patient.
"Any sensitive examination without consent is a breach of the Code of Health and Disability Consumers' Rights and displays an astonishing disregard for consumer rights."
Hill said to conduct examinations without consent was a disciplinary matter.
"I expect any health practitioner or student who is aware that consent has not been given for an examination to speak up at the time.
"The examination should not proceed until consent has been obtained. They should also report any such conduct to the relevant provider institution, the Medical Council of New Zealand or to my office directly."
Eradicating such behaviour requires clear leadership from senior doctors and nurses, he said.
All practitioners have a legal obligation to comply with the Code of Rights and should role-model appropriate behaviour, he said.
"Students working with patients in clinical settings also have legal obligations under the Code of Rights. I expect students to meet these obligations.
"Students have my full support and endorsement to question and stop any examination if the patient has not given informed consent."
The commissioner encouraged anyone with knowledge of sensitive examinations having taken place without consent to contact the Office at 0800 11 22 33 or to make a complaint at www.hdc.org.nz