The Health and Disability Commissioner has recommended that the Medical Council consider reviewing the competency of a doctor after he failed to get the consent of a patient to demonstrate a breast examination.

The patient went to see the doctor to be referred to a hospital service and have her prescription refilled. During her appointment, the doctor asked the patient if she performed self-breast examinations.

The patient said she did not. The doctor proceeded to demonstrate how to self-examine on the patient. He did this without informing the patient of what he was going to do, and without getting her consent.

The patient felt extremely uncomfortable, and after leaving the clinic, complained to both the police and the Commissioner.

The Commissioner held that the doctor breached two of the patient’s rights under the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers' Rights:

  • The right to be fully informed, by failing to explain how and why the examination would take place, and her right to have a chaperone present; and
  • The right to make an informed choice and give informed consent (without the information of how and why the examination would take place, she could not make an informed choice or give informed consent).

The doctor’s actions were found to be a significant departure from standard practice. The doctor had retired by the time the findings were made. Therefore, the Commissioner recommended that the Medical Council consider reviewing the doctor’s competency should he return to practice.

It is important that patients are provided with all the relevant information of what a practitioner intends to do so that patients can make an informed choice and provide informed consent. Failure to do so may result in an investigation, and potentially, prosecution.

If there are concerns around a practitioner failing to provide information or obtaining informed consent, it is wise to speak with a professional experienced in the area.

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Alan Knowsley