Medical professionals are in a position of power. Patients are in a position of vulnerability. The medical profession must exercise this power over vulnerable patients with great care and sensitivity.
Sexual misconduct by professionals is an abuse of their professional power and authority that arises from a special relationship that is inherently imbued with trust (R. Simon 1995). Sexual misconduct of patients can vary from inappropriate sexualised language and/or touching right up to sexual assault. The professional relationship between medic and patient starts immediately – once the appointment is made and the health care professional first sees his/her patient.
The sexual abuse of patients is totally unacceptable. This issue has been accepted worldwide and many overseas health authorities have already, following inquiries, implemented the necessary patient protection measures. For example in Alberta, Canada the CPSA the statutory reporting requirements are backed up by ethical requirements that state:
If a medical practitioner, on reasonable grounds, believes that another medical practitioner has made sexual advances or entered into a sexual relationship with a patient, there is an ethical obligation to notify the College [College of Physicians of Alberta]
However in Ireland corrective measures have not been implemented and in some cases there is a failure by medical authorities to recognise these incidents have taken place.
It is also important to remember that the well-being and physical/mental health of the practitioner plays a role in how they react to their own sexual urges and desires or the advances of a patient. In Caring for the Medic we consider the impact of stress, overwork, depression on medics and how to protect themselves and patients.
In the absence of dedicated laws and guidelines in Ireland, this places additional responsibility on today’s practitioners to recognise that sexual abuse of patients does indeed take place and to play their part in prevention.
As part of our work in educating the medical profession in Ireland we will review issues of “Acceptable” medical examination, some useful definitions, procedures and assistance with reporting misconduct, and links to international resources used by medical professions.
Dignity 4 Patients also exists to support medics who have queries about acceptable behaviour. You can contact us, in confidence, by phone or e-mail.