In a landmark decision, a physiotherapist has received the largest fine against an individual for offences under the National Law in Australia after being convicted of holding out
Michael Sylvester Dempsey was handed a fine of $120,000 by a Tasmanian court after he pleaded guilty to charges of holding out 11 people as registered physiotherapists or occupational therapists when they were not.
Mr Dempsey admitted in the Tasmanian Magistrates’ Court in Launceston to knowingly holding people out as registered health practitioners, when they were not, at various aged care facilities in Tasmania.
AHPRA began an investigation after receiving a complaint from a registered chiropractor employed by Mr Dempsey’s company, Libero Health Care Pty Ltd (Libero).
Following this investigation, AHPRA alleged that Libero was engaging unregistered people to provide regulated health services, specifically complex health care to residents at aged care facilities.
AHPRA also alleged that the people held out by Libero to deliver services were not registered practitioners and had been instructed to falsely assume or sign the names of registered practitioners when providing treatment to residents in the aged care facilities they visited.
The people held out came from unrelated sectors, including hospitality and transport, to provide pain management services to around 78 patients whose ages ranged from 67 to 99 years of age across several aged care facilities in Tasmania.
On 21 January 2019, Libero was placed into liquidation and is no longer trading.
On 27 September 2018 Mr Dempsey had his registration as a physiotherapist suspended by the Physiotherapy Board of Australia.
AHPRA CEO Martin Fletcher said the conviction and fine demonstrate the regulator’s determination to protect the Australian community from such unlawful and deceptive behaviour.
“The deliberate, intentional and deceptive behaviour uncovered as part of this case is of the most serious kind perpetrated on vulnerable people in aged care facilities,” he said.
“AHPRA will not hesitate to take action if we identify someone is practising as a registered practitioner when they are not registered.
“It also highlights the importance of the public and employers checking the online national register of practitioners to make sure services are being provided by a registered health practitioner. If you think someone is not registered – and they should be – tell AHPRA.”
The Physiotherapy Board of Australia Chair Kim Gibson and Occupational Therapy Board of Australia Board Chair Julie Brayshaw also welcomed the court’s ruling as a strong deterrent.
‘To claim another person is registered, when they are not, is serious as it puts vulnerable people at risk and threatens patient safety,” they said.
“We expect registered practitioners to know better.
“This type of intentional, unlawful behaviour will not go unchecked. Together with AHPRA, we as National Boards will continue to ensure regulation of physiotherapists and occupational therapists to protect the public.”