Physio re­grets sex with younger client

The Dominion Post - - News - JOHN WEEKES

A mar­ried phys­io­ther­a­pist had sex with a patient less than half his age.

Pizza and a movie at the woman’s house led to sex just 12 hours af­ter the phys­io­ther­a­pist gave her ther­apy.

He ap­peared be­fore the Health Prac­ti­tion­ers Dis­ci­plinary Tri­bunal in Welling­ton yes­ter­day.

The phys­io­ther­a­pist treated the woman, whom he al­ready knew well, on nine oc­ca­sions. ‘‘I should have ex­er­cised greater care in any case, be­cause I was ob­vi­ously mar­ried, so I have a lot of re­gret,’’ he told the tri­bunal.

Sup­pres­sion or­ders pro­hibit nam­ing or iden­ti­fy­ing the ther­a­pist and the com­plainant.

The Di­rec­tor of Pro­ceed­ings’ lawyer, Rachael Sch­midt-McCleave, asked the phys­io­ther­a­pist if he ac­cepted a nat­u­ral power im­bal­ance ex­isted with some­one so much younger than him, and who was ‘‘vul­ner­a­ble’’.

‘‘Yes, I do,’’ he replied. ‘‘I’m in com­plete re­gret about what hap­pened and any harm or [up­set] that I’ve caused her fam­ily.’’

The tri­bunal has to de­cide if the sex con­sti­tuted mal­prac­tice, or could bring dis­credit to the phys­io­ther­apy pro­fes­sion. Both parties agreed on sev­eral facts, but dis­agreed on whether a phys­iopa­tient re­la­tion­ship ex­isted when sex­ual in­ter­course hap­pened.

‘‘I had no in­ten­tion to con­tinue man­ag­ing her,’’ the phys­io­ther­a­pist said, ar­gu­ing the pro­fes­sional re­la­tion­ship was over by then.

He said he too was prob­a­bly vul­ner­a­ble at the time. The in­ci­dent was out of char­ac­ter and he would not make the same mis­take again, he told tri­bunal chair­man Ken­neth John­ston, QC.

The phys­io­ther­a­pist said he had no rea­son not to con­sider treat­ing the woman in the first place. ‘‘She was sim­ply some­body that I knew re­ally well . . . I know a lot of peo­ple re­ally well.’’

Den­nis Shep­herd, an­other phys­io­ther­a­pist, gave ev­i­dence on the pro­fes­sion’s ex­pected behaviour stan­dards. Ac­cord­ing to Phys­io­ther­apy New Zealand, a sex­ual re­la­tion­ship be­tween a cur­rent patient and phys­io­ther­a­pist was un­eth­i­cal and un­ac­cept­able.

Sex jokes, sex­u­ally of­fen­sive com­ments, in­ap­pro­pri­ate touch­ing and any sex­ual con­nec­tion was re­garded as sex­ual ha­rass­ment and a breach of pro­fes­sional bound­aries.

Shep­herd said pro­fes­sional stan­dards must be main­tained, even if a prac­ti­tioner knew the patient well. He dis­missed any sug­ges­tion the patient’s re­la­tion­ship was with the ‘‘clinic’’, rather than with the ther­a­pist him­self.

The phys­io­ther­a­pist’s lawyer, Christo­pher Steven­son, said his client pro­vided ‘‘a very high standard of care’’ to the patient, be­fore hav­ing sex with her.

While his client may have been im­moral, what he did fell short of the high thresh­old re­quired to find him guilty of pro­fes­sional mis­con­duct.

Steven­son asked Shep­herd if ‘‘some con­tro­versy’’ ex­isted over how much time elapsed be­fore some­body was no longer con­sid­ered a patient. Three to six months was prob­a­bly the min­i­mum, Shep­herd said, but this could be con­sid­ered case by case.

The ‘‘over­rid­ing fac­tor’’ in this case was the code of ethics all phys­ios must ad­here to.

Shep­herd was crit­i­cal of the physio’s de­ci­sion to go to the woman’s house, and said it was even worse that he stayed for sex. ‘‘If I was placed in that sit­u­a­tion, I would likely get up and leave quite quickly.’’

John­ston said the tri­bunal was of the view that a case of mal­prac­tice and pro­fes­sional mis­con­duct had been made, but the penalty, li­a­bil­i­ties and rea­sons for any de­ci­sion would not be dealt with be­fore this morn­ing.

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