Physio regrets sex with younger client
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.