A Canberra doctor has had restrictions imposed on his practice lifted after he defended against a recent patient complaint that included allegations of sexual behaviour.
In 2019, Dr Geoffrey Charles Speldewinde was a visiting medical officer at the Calvary John James Hospital in Deakin when the complainant, a female patient, came under his care.
She alleged that Dr Speldewinde, 68, showed excessive interest in her having reported sexual abuse during her childhood as he requested minute details despite her pleas for him to stop.
She also alleged he made conversations comprising sexual content that she resisted.
In her complaint filed with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency in March this year, she said she became extremely distressed and asked to be moved to another hospital.
She alleged he persisted in unwanted offensive behaviour, including an attempt to unnecessarily physically examine her, and that he had an "uncontrolled sexual obsession" with her.
She said she was told that the hospital could not stop Dr Speldewinde seeing her because he was on contract after she complained to the hospital.
Dr Speldewinde denied all of the allegations, which the complainant said had caused her extreme stress, fear and long-term trauma.
In response, the Medical Board of Australia took immediate action, under the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law, and imposed gender-based restrictions on his practice.
Dr Speldewinde then applied to the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal to have the decision reviewed, arguing that the board failed to establish any proven conduct that would justify immediate action.
During a hearing in September, he and the complainant gave most of the oral evidence in which the latter alleged, for the first time, the former also masturbated in her room.
The doctor also denied this.
In its recent judgment, the tribunal ordered that the restrictions on Dr Speldewinde's practice be replaced with him undertaking educational courses and programs instead.
In its findings, the tribunal analysed the risk based on numerous factors related to the alleged unwanted sexual behaviour.
These included Dr Speldewinde's denial, clinical notes, complaints made to hospital staff, other witnesses, emails, the period that has elapsed since the alleged incident and the formal complaint, and previous complaints against Dr Speldewinde.
The tribunal said he was reprimanded for incidents in 2010 and 2011 during consultations in his rooms - incidents to which he admitted.
It said, however, that in spite of the gravity of the complaint in the latest case, it did not find that the risk associated with Dr Speldewinde's alleged sexual conduct needed immediate action.
It said substantial issues were raised about the nature and severity of the complaint based on conflicting evidence, her statements that she did not want the complaint to be followed up and her raising an allegation late in the process that a hospital staff member sexually assaulted her.
The tribunal remains concerned that elements of Dr Speldewinde's history taking, particularly related to emotional issues, has at times been of intensity such as to cause significant distress to his patients.Graeme Lunney, SC
The tribunal also analysed the risk based on Dr Speldewinde's method of history taking of patients.
The tribunal's senior member, Graeme Lunney, SC, said "something happened" during his taking of the complainant's history during that first consultation.
"It seems likely that at the same time he triggered painful recollections of early abuse when making the inquiry about psychological symptoms," Mr Lunney said for and on behalf of the tribunal.
"The tribunal remains concerned that elements of Dr Speldewinde's history taking, particularly related to emotional issues, has at times been of intensity such as to cause significant distress to his patients.
"Dr Speldewinde conducted the interview with insufficient sensitivity to the possibility of harm and that there is a serious risk of it occurring again without immediate action."
Mr Lunney said education can mitigate the risk associated with Dr Speldewinde's history taking methods.
Under the relevant legislation, the tribunal in this application by the doctor has to assess only the risk of a medical practitioner from the allegations when considering taking immediate action.
The threshold for that is having a "reasonable belief" in those allegations.
Mr Lunney said that while assessment of risk is the focus of the case, the strength of the evidence relating to the allegations was a significant factor.
If Dr Speldwinde and the medical board do not agree about the courses by early November, they can ask for the tribunal to intervene.
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