Spotlight on sexual misconduct

How many Australian pharmacists receive sexual misconduct notifications, either by a colleague, employer or patient?

Research led by Dr Marie Bismark, from the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health at the University of Melbourne, has found that notifications regarding sexual misconduct by health professionals were more frequent for men than women, for middle-aged than younger practitioners, and in clinical specialities characterised by longer term one-to-one treatment relationships.

Their study, recently published in the MJA, is the first to examine sexual misconduct notifications for a national cohort of all registered health practitioners.

During 2011–2016, Australian regulators received 1507 notifications of sexual misconduct by 1167 registered health practitioners (0.2% of the 724,649 practitioners registered during that time).

Of these practitioners, 18% were named in more than one allegation of sexual misconduct.

Of the 1167 subjects of sexual misconduct notifications, 17% were alleged to have engaged in sexual harassment, 58% were alleged to have engaged in assault, and 25% were alleged to have had sexual relationships with patients.


Sexual relationships

Engaging or seeking to engage in a sexual relationship with a patient, regardless of whether the practitioner believes the patient consented to the relationship

Sexual harassment

Making sexual remarks including sexual humour or innuendo, asking irrelevant sexual questions, using words that are intended to arouse or gratify sexual desire

Sexual assault


Touching patients in a sexual way, engaging in sexual behaviour in front of a patient, conducting a physical examination that is not clinically indicated or after the patient has refused or withdrawn consent

The large majority of subjects of sexual misconduct notifications were men (88%).

Complaints about sexual misconduct by female practitioners (12% of subjects) were less frequent, with two-thirds related to sexual relationships rather than sexual assault or harassment.

More than one-third of all health practitioners during the time period were under 36 years of age, but only 10% in this age group were subjects of notifications.

Pharmacists comprised just 0.9% of all subjects of sexual misconduct notifications during 2011–2016 (10 practitioners, or 0.03% of all pharmacists).

Meanwhile medical practitioners comprised 56.1% of subjects of sexual misconduct notifications, and nearly half (45.3%) of these were GPs. Close to 9% were psychiatrists.

The specialities of psychiatry, psychology and general practice “involve the disclosure of intimate information in the context of one-to-one, longitudinal treatment relationships, a situation in which the risks of inappropriate emotional involvement by the practitioner and of patient vulnerability may be especially high,” suggested the researchers.

One-third (33.5%) of sexual misconduct notifications were lodged by fellow practitioners or employers, while affected patients lodged 33.6% sexual misconduct notifications.

Nearly 13% of notifications were lodged by a relative, friend or by a member of the public.

In closed cases, one-third of sexual misconduct notifications led to regulatory sanctions. Formal conditions, suspension or cancellation of registration were imposed in 20% of closed sexual misconduct cases, and lesser sanctions in 15%.

“Our study sheds new light on factors associated with notifications of sexual misconduct by health professionals, but further investigation is required,” said the researchers.

“While notifications alleging sexual misconduct by health practitioners are rare, such misconduct has serious consequences for patients, practitioners, and the community,” they said.

“Patients, health care practitioners, and the public deserve focused efforts to prevent sexual misconduct in health care, fair and thorough investigation of allegations of sexual misconduct, and prompt and consistent action by regulators when misconduct is confirmed.”

See the full article in the MJA here

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1 Comment

  1. Kay Dunkley

    Numbers are low in pharmacy but for the victims any incidence is too high. There are probably many unreported cases. The perpetrators also need help in order to protect others. If you are aware of sexual misconduct in pharmacy and are unsure what to do the Pharmacists’ Support Service (PSS) is there to support you and to help you decide what to do next. PSS is available every day of the year between 8am and 11.00pm AEST on 1300244910.

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