On 16 May 2019, the Civil and Administrative Tribunal of New South Wales rejected an application to have a medical practitioner's registration reinstated, determining that the practitioner needed to further address his ethical and moral framework due to a continuing risk to patients.
In 2018, the Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) brought disciplinary proceedings in respect of Samuel Vigours (the Applicant). He was found to be guilty of professional misconduct, reprimanded and had his registration as a medical practitioner cancelled. The applicant subsequently sought to have his registration reinstated. The Medical Council of NSW opposed the application.
The Applicant received a Bachelor of Medicine and a Bachelor of Surgery in 2013 and obtained his general registration as a medical practitioner in 2015. He worked at a hospital in a country town, after which we worked as a locum and then in a number of other facilities. Four separate complaints were originally made to the Tribunal.
- Complaint 1 related to the Applicant taking antibiotics from the hospital in order to provide them to women with whom he was in relationships. In one instance the antibiotics had another person's name on them. He also performed a blood test on his girlfriend when she attended the hospital, ordered results in another doctor's name, gave her his opinion of those results and failed to take a record of the incident.
- Complaint 2 related to the Applicant's failure to maintain proper professional boundaries with a patient with whom he had a personal relationship. He paid her a social visit, lay in her hospital bed and watched a movie with her while on an overnight shift. He was not her treating doctor.
- Complaint 3 involved one of the women referred to in complaint 1. The Tribunal found that on multiple occasions, the Applicant asked the woman to attend hospital during his meal breaks and that they engaged in sexual activity during this time on hospital premises.
- Complaint 4 alleged that the Applicant's behaviour in relation to the above incidents was, cumulatively, so serious that it constituted professional misconduct, which justified the cancellation of his registration.
Arguments for Reinstatement
The Applicant argued that he had taken steps to address the issues which had arisen in his hearing. This included mentoring with superiors about his boundary issues, keeping a diary documenting his progress and undertaking a Graduate Certificate in Bioethics at the University of Sydney. The Applicant also provided a number of references from clinicians and provided reports from two psychiatrists.
He gave evidence at the Tribunal hearing, suggesting that he had reflected on the various instances in which he had 'blurred' his personal and professional boundaries and his reasons for doing so. For instance, he saw himself as helpfully assisting his girlfriend in navigating the health system, rather than considering his behaviour to be inappropriate.
However, the Applicant largely failed to acknowledge a number of instances of dishonesty in responses given to the HCCC and in statements made to the Tribunal. He generally tried to put his dishonesty down to his inability to present himself as a witness which the Tribunal found to be 'transparently self-serving'.
The Tribunal's task was to determine whether it was presently appropriate to make an order reinstating the Applicant's registration. The Applicant's dishonesty was a 'relevant and important' factor for the Tribunal.
The Tribunal accepted that the Applicant's mentoring with other doctors and completion of a bioethics course suggested that, if he were to return to medical practice, he would not prescribe drugs to partners or family members, engage in sexual activity while on shift, or participate in the treatment of personal acquaintances. However, the Tribunal remained concerned about the number and variety of ways in which the applicant had exhibited unsatisfactory professional conduct. This indicated that the Applicant may have certain defects of character or in his way of thinking which might lead to other kinds of unsatisfactory conduct in future. The applicant had not addressed the dishonest aspect of his character. Rather, he had exhibited it while giving evidence and had shown an unwillingness to take responsibility.
The Tribunal concluded that the Applicant needed to further address his personal and professional ethical and moral framework. A lack of honesty and frankness poses a risk to patients. A practitioner must be able to acknowledge mistakes they have made, regardless of the personal and professional consequences.
The application for a reinstatement order was refused.