“My daughter doesn’t trust doctors now,” a woman whose husband had an affair with their family GP told a disciplinary tribunal today.
“The whole situation was profoundly humiliating.”
The doctor, who can’t be named, continued to treat the wife and children of the man while it’s alleged she was having a sexual relationship with him.
She even transferred the man to another doctor specifically so she could continue seeing him.
However, that’s still in breach of the code of ethics for any medical practitioner in New Zealand.
“It is never acceptable if the doctor-patient relationship has ended for the sole purpose of initiating a sexual relationship,” that code says.
“It is also wrong for a doctor to enter into a relationship with a former patient or a close relative of a patient. This breaches the trust of the patient placed in the doctor.”
It all started in 2018 with a friend request on Facebook from the man to his family doctor.
Despite receiving advice from a fellow GP, the woman accepted the request and began exchanging messages with the man.
“Basically fine to txt etc as long as u are not my patient,” the doctor said in a message, planning a way to make their relationship ethical after several weeks of messaging back and forth.
He was then transferred to another doctor and their relationship continued.
“An escalating tone of flirtation can be seen as the messages progress,” lawyer Dale la Hood told the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal today.
After his wife returned from a two-week trip to Thailand the man informed her that he’d been having an affair and that it was more than just sex, he was in love.
The next morning he revealed that he’d been unfaithful with the family doctor.
He even called his children into the lounge to tell them he was leaving and moving in with their doctor.
The jilted wife, who was too stressed to go to work, booked an appointment with a doctor to obtain a medical certificate to give to her employer.
She was inadvertently booked in to see the woman who’d been having an affair with her husband but did not request her specifically.
“I was so fixated on getting the medical certificate, I remember thinking she’ll give me one. I won’t have to be humiliated more than necessary because she already knows the story.
“Any doctor would have seen that I was incapable of working … I think any person would have seen.”
The doctor told the Health and Disability Commissioner two years ago when the complaint was first laid that she was scared about what might happen when she saw she’d been booked for an appointment with the wife of the man who she’d had an affair with.
“I got a fright and panicked. I literally feared for my safety.”
The doctor then messaged the man and told him that his wife had requested a doctor’s appointment – a breach of doctor and patient confidentiality.
This was the breach that formed the basis of the wife’s complaint to the commissioner several years ago.
Today the two women sat three chairs apart, not looking at each other, as the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal heard the complaint at the start of a four-day hearing to determine what consequences the doctor will face for the alleged breaches of the code of ethics.
The woman who made the complaint took the stand and answered questions from lawyers acting on behalf of the Medical Council’s professional conduct committee as well as counsel representing the GP.
During her testimony she said that following the discovery her husband had been unfaithful she had trouble sleeping and developed anxiety.
“The fact that he formed a relationship with our doctor left us with a deep feeling of betrayal. I don’t think my health and wellbeing were her priority as my GP,” she said.
“She breached my privacy and rights to confidentiality.
“I had believed I had a good marriage.”
The wife told the tribunal her daughter had become distrustful of doctors in general since learning what had happened between her father and the GP.
A key part of the doctor’s defence is that she claims no sexual relationship commenced until January 2019, months after the man’s marriage had ended as well as any doctor-patient relationship they’d had.
However, the wife of the man claims he said specifically when he told her about the affair that it was “not just about the sex”.
The doctor’s lawyer, Matthew McClelland, questioned the wife during the tribunal today about whether her husband progressed a sexual relationship after he had moved out.
“I don’t know … I was never at their flat with them.”
McClelland also questioned how happy the marriage had been, given that the man had also had an affair in 2011, after which his wife took him back.
After the woman laid a complaint with the Health and Disability Commissioner in 2020 the commissioner directed that the GP should make an apology.
However, today she told the tribunal that she doubted how genuine the apology was because it had been ordered by the commissioner.
“Surely she would have some kind of integrity … you would put your hand up and admit to it. That’s all you can do it those circumstances,” she said.
“That and the apology only came at the direction of the Health and Disability Commissioner.”
Also taking the stand today were two former colleagues of the doctor at her practice in Nelson.
The first had met with the doctor shortly after she’d received a friend request on Facebook from the man she ended up having an affair with.
She told the tribunal how they discussed the ethics of doctor-patient boundaries and advised her friend act with caution.
Tomorrow the tribunal will hear from the man the GP had an affair with, as well as another witness.
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