In Health Ombudsman v Galloway [2022] QCAT 121 (11 April 2022) the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal reiterated (at [23]) that “The fact that the respondent’s conduct occurred outside of his professional role as a paramedic is not impediment to a finding by the Tribunal of unprofessional conduct or professional misconduct.”

The definitions of “unprofessional conduct” and “professional misconduct” in section 5 of the National Law make it clear that such conduct may be constituted by conduct outside the practice of the health profession. Health practitioners enjoy the benefits of registration and the obligations of such registration require them to conduct themselves with propriety, not only in the conduct of their profession, but also in their personal life. (Health Ombudsman v Flute [2021] QCAT 189 (Judge Allen QC), quoted at [25]).

In this case was that the paramedic had entered pleas of guilty to charges of:

(a)        Permitting premises to be used for the commission of a crime (possess dangerous drug cannabis);

(b)       Two offences of indecent treatment of a child under 16 (exposing a child to an indecent act); and

(c)        Attempted indecent treatment of a child under 16 (procuring a child to perform an indecent act).

The conduct occurred in his home and involved two young women who had come to act as babysitters. The offender was sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment with the option of supervised parole after 3 months full time custody and a requirement to be of good behaviour for 2 years.

The respondent had been employed by QAS since graduating in 2015. The offences occurred in January 2020.  He had been suspended since 16 January 2020 and resigned in June 2020. On 18 January Health Ombudsman took immediate action (Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (Qld) s 156) and suspended the respondent’s registration as a paramedic.  After the criminal proceedings had been completed the matter was referred to QCAT for a final determination with respect to his registration.

As noted above, the fact that this conduct occurred in circumstances unrelated to his practice as a paramedic, it was still open to find that he had engaged in professional misconduct and was not a fit and proper person to remain a paramedic. The presiding judicial member said (at [31]-[35]):

Paramedics are required to treat and care for people of all ages, people inherently vulnerable by virtue of their circumstances.  There is a significant level of trust placed in the profession to act in a patient’s best interest, and not to exploit that vulnerability.

The respondent’s conduct here is entirely inconsistent with those qualities and ethical standards.  It was anathema to a caring profession, and undoubtedly to his professional peers.  It was inconsistent with proper practice.

The drug-related conviction too was quite inconsistent with the expectations of the public, and other members of the profession -that paramedics will avoid inappropriate dealing with drugs, not only in a professional context, but also illicit drugs and associated criminal offending in their personal lifestyle.

The respondent’s conduct had the real potential to adversely affect the good standing and reputation of the profession in the eyes of the public, and the public’s trust in the profession.  His behaviour cannot be divorced from the professional context.

The Tribunal finds that the conduct of the respondent as proved constitutes professional misconduct under the limbs (a) and (c) of the National Law definitions.

The Tribunal took into account the respondent’s apparent remorse including his cooperation with the police investigation and the disciplinary proceedings and his early plea of guilty (see [40]). On the other hand (at [41]) “there is no evidence before the Tribunal demonstrating his reflection on, or insight into, the significance of his criminal conduct in the context of his professional role.”

When considering the sanction to be imposed the Tribunal said (at [57]-[58]):

I am satisfied here that the serious nature of the criminal conduct, the absence of any current evidence relating to his attitude to his profession, that the respondent is currently unfit to practice, and that cancellation is the appropriate order…

The protective purposes of the Tribunal’s orders, particularly in maintaining public confidence and trust in the profession, and in upholding professional standards requires a period of preclusion from practice.

After considering other cases relating to sexual misconduct by health practitioners (ranging from possessing child pornography ([55]) to ‘serious sexual offences by a doctor against his daughter’ ([52)) the tribunal ordered that the paramedics registration was cancelled (not merely suspended) and ‘the respondent is disqualified from reapplying for registration for a period of two years’.  That does not mean he will automatically be re-registered after two years. He will have to apply for registration and demonstrate, no doubt by reference to his behaviour in the next two years, that he is then a fit and proper person to be registered as a paramedic and no longer poses an unacceptable risk to patients or the profession.

This blog is made possible with generous financial support from the Australasian College of Paramedicine, the Australian Paramedics Association (NSW), Natural Hazards Research Australia, NSW Rural Fire Service Association  and the NSW SES Volunteers Association. I am responsible for the content in this post including any errors or omissions. Any opinions expressed are mine, and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or understanding of the donors.