Doctor reinstated after colonoscopy behaviour questioned

An anaesthetist suspended for allegedly inappropriate behaviour during a colonoscopy procedure has won a case to have his medical registration reinstated.

Dr Adam Hill was suspended in March 2019 at the request of the Medical Council of NSW following a complaint by a theatre nurse relating to an incident at a Sydney hospital in November 2018.

The complaint alleged that a colorectal surgeon had invited the anaesthetist to conduct a rectal examination of a large mass discovered during a colonoscopy procedure on a 37-year old male patient. The Civil and Administrative Tribunal of NSW was told the surgeon had told him it was “a once in a lifetime opportunity to feel” a suspected Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumour.

It was also alleged that while acting in a ‘jocular demeanour’ the surgeon appeared to take a photograph of Dr Hills palpating the tumour, and suggested it be sent to his colleagues.

In a complaint made to the hospital management, theatre nursing staff said they had told the doctors to stop the rectal examination but their request had been ignored.

The hospital CEO withdrew the anaesthetist’s accreditation and the complaint was passed on to be investigated by the Medical Council of NSW, the Health Care Complaints Commission and NSW Police.

In its initial submission in March to have the anaesthetist suspended, the Medical Council of NSW asserted that the incident ‘may amount to aggravated sexual assault’ of the patient.

The suspension was ‘stayed’ in April and in an appeal hearing decision released on 26 June the tribunal ruled there was no evidence of a sexual overtone and the controversy was whether this was “a misguided instance of professional curiosity or a highly disrespectful and objectionable attempt at humour.”

The Medical Council said it was no longer suggesting there was a sexual element, but argued that the doctor’s behaviour during the colonoscopy procedure had not respected the unconscious patient’s rights, choice, dignity and privacy, and had violated the trust between doctor and patient.

It argued the anaesthetist should have advocated for the patient in response to the colorectal surgeon’s suggestion of palpating the tumour.

It argued the suspension was in the public interest because the practitioner’s behaviour “was inconsistent with the honour and integrity of the medical profession”.

The tribunal accepted the doctor’s appeal on the basis that the suspension decision was “illogical, harsh, unreasonable and unjust.”

It said the incident had been a serious lapse of judgment, but noted the doctor had expressed remorse and willingness to learn from his mistakes.

And while the complaint had yet to be resolved, Dr Hill did not pose a risk to the health or safety of any person and his suspension was not in the public interest, it ruled.

The tribunal said it believed the doctor would practice with competence,  respecting the dignity of his patients and with high moral and ethical values.

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