A Victorian psychiatrist has been barred from practising for six months after he had sex with a vulnerable former patient who he treated again while practising in Castlemaine in the 1990s.
Dr Robert Proctor committed two acts of professional misconduct brought by the Medical Board of Australia, and his penalty was determined in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal last month.
Dr Proctor treated the patient – who was considered “vulnerable by reason of her state of mental health” – in the 1980s, and remained in contact with her after the conclusion of her treatment.
A personal tragedy caused the patient to suffer emotional stress in the 1990s, and soon after Dr Proctor invited her to his house where they had sexual intercourse.
The tribunal heard the patient was “crying the whole time” and she believed Dr Proctor had “breached her trust” because he knew of past trauma in her life. The incident caused further acute emotional stress.
The patient resumed treatment with Dr Proctor while he practiced in Castlemaine later in the 1990s, but described their interactions as “more like friends than doctor or patient” and that Dr Proctor instead spoke about his life and relationships.
He also engaged in further inappropriate behaviour by showing her a photograph in which he was naked.
By the time of the offending, there were clear ethical guidelines set out by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists that sexual relationships with former patients were unethical.
The tribunal was told that Dr Proctor has not had any substantiated complaint made against him since, and he admitted his conduct was wrong and has apologised.
A number of references from medical professionals were provided, speaking of Dr Proctor’s “proficiency and ethics as a psychiatrist”.
He now practises in Ballarat, Swan Hill and Horsham, and VCAT found that a lack of psychiatrists in country Victoria meant his suspension would have an impact on dozens of patients.
Senior VCAT member Elisabeth Wentworth described Dr Proctor’s conduct as “disgraceful and dishonourable”.
“In the circumstances, we were satisfied that Dr Proctor deliberately or recklessly took advantage of a former patient whom he should have recognised as vulnerable,” she said.
“His conduct in engaging in sexual intercourse with his former patient was worthy of significant censure and would have been so regarded by professional colleagues at the time.
“While the harm in general terms is obvious, the harm in (the patient’s) case is compelling described by her.”
Dr Proctor was reprimanded, and his registration as a medical practitioner will be suspended for six months from August 20 this year.