After a patient’s mother died, a pharmacist used his store’s records to contact her and begin a sexual relationship
The Pharmacy Board has issued a statement about a pharmacist who had sexual relationships with two patients, and urged them to keep quiet.
Timothy Hopwood fronted the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal via videoconference late last month, where he was reprimanded and conditions imposed on his registration.
The Tribunal found him guilty of professional misconduct by having personal and sexual relations with two patients.
In January 2019, one of Mr Hopwood’s patients made a complaint to the Pharmacy Board of Australia. That same month, the Board also became aware of Mr Hopwood’s relationship with another patient.
On 23 August 2019, the Board took interim action to suspend Mr Hopwood’s registration.
The Board alleged that Mr Hopwood had engaged in personal and sexual relationships with two female patients, one of which was an employee, between 2010 and 2018. Further, Mr Hopwood had used his position and knowledge as a pharmacist to pursue a personal relationship with one of the patients.
The Board alleged Mr Hopwood was aware of each patient’s personal issues, which caused them to be psychologically vulnerable.
Further, Mr Hopwood dispensed anti-depressant medication (as prescribed) for each patient.
Mr Hopwood encouraged each patient not to disclose the nature of their relationship.
However, the Tribunal noted that there had been no suggestion that the relationships influenced his dispensing.
The first relationship, with Patient One, lasted from December 2010 until at least March 2018 – during which time he dispensed tramadol, venlafexine and oxycodone for her.
She was an employee of his pharmacy and he was aware that she had experienced personal issues as the result of a marriage breakdown.
The second relationship was with a patient who had been receiving medicines including desvenlafaxine from the pharmacy from August 2016.
Roughly two weeks later, Patient Two’s mother passed away, leaving her in a vulnerable state.
“On or about 1 October 2016, Mr Hopwood, having obtained Patient Two’s number from the pharmacy records, contacted Patient Two through the pharmacy phone regarding the passing of her mother, and invited her to contact Mr Hopwood when she needed someone to speak to,” the Tribunal said.
“Mr Hopwood gave Patient Two his home and mobile numbers.
“Mr Hopwood initiated that Patient Two meet him for a coffee in Melbourne, and in doing so used his position as a pharmacist to pursue a non-therapeutic relationship with Patient Two.
“From on or about 8 October 2016 until on or about 29 December 2017, Mr Hopwood engaged in an inappropriate personal and/or intimate and/or sexual relationship with Patient Two.”
He continued to dispense medicines to her during the course of the relationship.
On 12 September 2019, the suspension was stayed by order of the Tribunal. Mr Hopwood resumed practising.
In April 2020, Mr Hopwood sold his pharmacy.
On 11 May 2020, Mr Hopwood gave an undertaking not to practise as a pharmacist. Pursuant to the suspension and subsequent undertaking, Mr Hopwood had been out of practice for 13 months.
At the videoconference hearing on Wednesday, 26 May 2021, the Tribunal found that Mr Hopwood failed to maintain professional boundaries in that he had engaged in inappropriate personal, intimate or sexual relationships with the two patients, which amounted to professional misconduct.
On 4 June 2021, the Tribunal ordered that Mr Hopwood be reprimanded and have conditions, requiring mentoring, imposed on his registration. The Tribunal noted that if not for the time Mr Hopwood already spent out of practice, a prospective suspension would have been ordered.
Mitigating factors included Mr Hopwood’s clear professional disciplinary record over the 45 years he had been registered, positive references from local medical practitioners and his recognition that his conduct breached professional boundaries.
“His starting position was one of not recognising or understanding the potential for any abuse of the power imbalance between him as a pharmacist, and the vulnerable patients with whom he pursued a dual personal and therapeutic relationship,” the Tribunal noted.
“We are satisfied that Mr Hopwood now has clear insight into the potential for such relationships to have an improperly exploitative effect on his patients.”
The tribunal outlined the profession’s codes of conduct and ethics required practitioners to: recognise that there is a practitioner/patient power imbalance; recognise and manage patient vulnerabilities; and manage actual and potential situations of conflict of interest.
“This case will undoubtedly act as a deterrent for other pharmacists from engaging in such personal/professional boundary violations,” the Tribunal said.