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Sexual misconduct by a physiotherapist (06HDC15374)
Download Sexual misconduct by a physiotherapist (06HDC15374) (PDF 8Kb)
(06HDC15374, 6 July 2007)
Physiotherapist ~ Sexual
boundaries ~ Ethical and professional standards ~ Personal privacy
~ Rights 1(2), 2, 4(2)
A woman complained that her
physiotherapist inappropriately exposed her breasts while treating
her for back pain. During the six months he had been treating her,
initially for bilateral shin pain and subsequently for lower back
pain, they had developed a good professional relationship. The
incident occurred while the woman was putting her top back on
following the completion of the treatment for back pain. Earlier in
the treatment the physiotherapist had made a comment about a
picture of a woman wearing a see-through dress in the magazine the
patient was reading. While the patient was changing, the
physiotherapist made a comment about the picture and then proceeded
to pull down the front of her bra on two occasions.
The woman experienced considerable
emotional trauma as the result of the incident, and immediately
following the incident required sleeping pills to help her to
sleep. She also underwent counselling.
It was held that the
physiotherapist's conduct on this occasion was unethical.
Inappropriately exposing the woman's breasts was clearly an abuse
of the relationship of trust that had been built up. This severe
departure from the acceptable standard of professional behaviour
amounted to a breach of Right 4(2). The physiotherapist's actions
were a clear abuse of the trust that the woman had placed in him as
her physiotherapist, and amounted to exploitation, in breach of
There was no evidence of the
development of a treatment plan for either the woman's lower back
injury or shin splints. It was also held that the physiotherapist's
clinical documentation failed to meet professional standards,
breaching Right 4(2).
He also failed to take relatively
simple steps to respect the woman's right to privacy, remaining in
the room while she undressed and not offering her a gown. These
omissions amount to a breach of Right 1(2).
The matter was referred to the
Director of Proceedings. On 21 December 2007 the Health
Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal upheld a charge of professional
misconduct against the physiotherapist. The Tribunal imposed the
following conditions on his practice for a period of 12 months:
that a chaperone be present during consultations with female
patients, that he undertake a mentoring programme, and that he
ensure that his physiotherapy workload does not become excessive.
The physiotherapist was censured, fined $5,000.00 and ordered to
pay $5,000 costs.
Link to Health Practitioners
Disciplinary Tribunal decision: