Trust is therefore essential: the GMC describes it as the foundation of the doctor-patient partnership.“Patients should be able to trust that their doctor will behave professionally towards them during consultations and not see them as a potential sexual partner,” it says.
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 TASSC 70, the Supreme Court of Tasmania quashed a decision of the Psychologists Registration Board of Tasmania to suspend a psychologist for 6 months for entering into a sexual relationship with a former patient fewer than 2 years after the end of the therapeutic relationship. The appropriate test must be whether a sexual relationship would exploit the client or put the health of the client at risk.
The Supreme Court quashed the decision because the Board switched from considering these allegations as a breach of a code of conduct to considering them as an allegation of professional misconduct at common law without adequately bringing the switch to the unrepresented psychologist’s attention. Justice Blow engaged in a mini-review of recent cases about health professionals and sex with former patients:“In my opinion the fact that the professional relationship had ended at the time the sexual relationship commenced is not of itself determinative.
The guidance, issued yesterday, tells doctors they cannot initiate ‘sexual’ or ‘improper’ relationships with current patients.
But it tells them they can date former patients, as long as they give ‘careful consideration’ to certain factors.‘Although it would not be possible to specify a length of time after which it is acceptable to pursue a relationship with a former patient, it is reasonable to expect that the more recently a professional relationship ended the less likely it is to be appropriate to begin a personal relationship with the patient.’ Doctors should only start a relationship with a former patient if they have used their 'professional judgement' to decide if it is appropriate and are still banned from 'improper' relationships with current patients (file picture) Some senior GPs, however, have previously warned that such relationships are always ‘flawed’.
A doctor who breaches the professional boundary may risk the patient’s trust in the doctor, cause psychological damage to the patient, compromise the patient’s medical care, and undermine the trust and confidence that other patients and the wider community have in the medical profession.