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Chaperones scrapped for doctors facing sexual allegations

Doctors will no longer be allowed to practice with a chaperone while they are the subject of an investigation for sexual misconduct.

Instead, practitioners under investigation will be subject to gender-based restrictions, restrictions on patient contact, or will simply have their licence suspended.

The changes follow recommendations from an independent report into the chaperone system, which AHPRA and the Medical Board of Australia have said they will implement in full.

The report, authored by Ron Patterson, a Professor of Law at Auckland University, found the use of chaperones while allegations of sexual misconduct are being investigated or as a protective measure in the disciplinary process “does not meet community expectations and does not always keep patients safe”.

Professor Paterson recommends:

  • No longer using chaperones as an interim restriction while allegations of sexual misconduct are investigated;
  • Establishing a specialist team within AHPRA working with the MBA to improve handling of sexual misconduct complaints;
  • Strengthening monitoring and providing more information to patients in the exceptional cases where chaperone conditions remain in place.

Professor Paterson said that despite the widespread use of chaperones in many countries, “I was left in no doubt that there are better ways to protect and inform patients when allegations of sexual misconduct are made about a health practitioner”.

In a media statement, AHPRA has said it will strengthen its chaperone protocol to reflect all the report’s recommendations.

Dr Joanne Flynn, chair of the Medical Board of Australia, said the report makes a compelling case for change.

“We’ve been told very clearly that the chaperone conditions don’t do the job we need them to do and don’t match current community expectations,” she said. “We are making big changes to the way we deal with concerns about sexual boundary violations.”

The report was commissioned following the case of Melbourne neurologist Dr Andrew Churchyard, who allegedly continued to molest patients while already under investigation and with chaperone conditions on his practice.

In at least one case, Dr Churchyard allegedly molested a patient behind a curtain while a chaperone was present in the room.

There are currently 39 doctors in Australia working with a chaperone restriction, all of whom are in private practice. Chaperone conditions remain in place for an average of almost two years.

Under the current rules, doctors are not obliged to inform their patients that they have restrictions on their practice, although the information is available on the AHPRA registry.

You can read the report here.