Repeated sexual abuse by neurologist

Repeated sexual abuse by neurologist

Partner Bree Knoester of Adviceline Injury Lawyers has received more than 100 complaints of sexual assault against neurologist Andrew Churchyard.

"They were all men, all aged between about 18 and 50," said Ms Knoester in an interview with ABC News.

Representing most of the men, Bree said that all of their stories were similar with worrying themes.

"As I was listening, I kept waiting to hear something different, or for someone's story to sound not quite right, but everyone had a similar experience," says Bree.

People had the impression he was the'Huntington's guy' or the'Friedreich's ataxia guy', she explains. People thought they were seeing the best person in the field. That might have made them feel less willing to question his practices. And many patients said he made them feel like they didn't need to see any other doctors and that he could provide all the medical services they needed.

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. Bree is aware of additional allegations of sexual assault in 2015 during the period in which a chaperone was meant to be in place.

"We know that certainly 10 people were abused after one of our clients had reported Churchyard to Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA)," says Bree. "And for many of those 10 it wasn't the first incident: this was repetitive action by Churchyard."

Churchyard took his own life in 2016 after a Magistrate found that there was enough evidence for a jury to find him guilty.

Adviceline Injury Lawyers represents a number of former patients currently seeking compensation from the Churchyard estate.

'Independent Review of the Use of Chaperones to Protect Patients in Australia'

In August 2016, AHPRA issued a media release stating that in conjunction with the Medical Board of Australia, an independent review was being commissioned into the effectiveness of chaperoning restrictions in keeping patients safe.

Released in April 2017, the report recommended a number of reforms to the use of chaperones in response to allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of doctors. Most notably, Professor Ron Paterson recommends the use of interim chaperones be abolished, in favour of more protective measures such as gender-based restrictions to practice or suspensions.

The report also calls for especially trained staff to handle the sexual misconduct allegations within AHPRA and the Medical Board of Australia, as well as calling for more information about a practitioner's past investigations to be made publicly available in AHPRA's register of practitioners.

If chaperones are to be continued to be used, the report calls for chaperones only to be used in exceptional cases.

We welcome the recommendations made by Professor Paterson, and in particular echo the report's warning that chaperones do little to protect patients against predatory practitioners. Protecting the public must be the Medical Board's first priority.

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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