Churchyard case prompts grave concerns for patient safety

Tuesday 2 August 2016
Bree Knoester

Dr Andrew Churchyard, former neurologist at Cabrini Health and Monash Health, is accused of sexually assaulting a number of his patients since 2002. Partner Bree Knoester, Managing Partner of Adviceline Injury Lawyers, is currently acting for a former patient who was allegedly abused by Dr Churchyard for over five years.

After being charged by police with two counts of indecent assault in 2015, Dr Churchyard was immediately suspended from practice at Monash Health. A different approach was employed at Cabrini Health, where Dr Churchyard was instead allocated a chaperone who was responsible for monitoring his interaction with patients. We are aware of additional allegations of sexual assault in 2015 during the period in which a chaperone was meant to be in place.

Despite the implementation of a chaperone system for Dr Churchyard, the regulating body were notified in early 2016 of a further alleged offence. Dr Churchyard was committed for trial after a Magistrate found that there was enough evidence for a jury to find him guilty.

The Medical Board of Australia eventually suspended Dr Churchyard’s medical registration.

Last month Dr Churchyard took his own life, furthering the distress of his family and colleagues and creating uncertainty for his victims in their plight for justice. Victims of Dr Churchyard continue to come forward.  [Update 27/10: Following the extensive media attention, Bree has received over 100 inquiries from other former patients alleging sexual misconduct.]

The case against Dr Churchyard calls into question the structures put in place by the health profession to ensure the safety of patients. It has been reported that there are nearly 50 doctors accused of serious misconduct who require a chaperone in order to continue practising, and nearly 100 have had their medical licences suspended since 2014. A small number are further accused of being serial sex offenders.

Bree Knoester has acted for many victims of sexual abuse, including doctor/patient abuse and historical sex abuse cases. If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, and would like legal advice, Bree can be contacted confidentially on her direct telephone number (03) 9321 9879.

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