Health and Disability Commissioner finds GP failed to get informed consent for breast examination, made 'inappropriate' comments about her mental health

  • 09/10/2023
The GP breached multiple aspects of the code.
The GP breached multiple aspects of the code. Photo credit: Getty Images

The Health and Disability Commissioner (HDC) has found a locum GP at a medical centre breached the code for his care of a woman and "unprofessional and inappropriate comments" about her mental health.  

According to a report released on Monday by deputy HDC Deborah James, the woman requested an appointment after she discovered a lump under her ribcage and was also experiencing severe anxiety.  

But the woman complained after the GP performed a breast examination instead of listening to her about her symptoms of anxiety. The name of the GP and medical centre was not provided in the commissioner's report.

James said the GP failed to explain the purpose of the woman's appointment, as well as the rationale and nature of the breast examination.   

"The GP breached Right 6(2) of the Code. This gives consumers the right of information they need to make an informed choice or informed consent."  

James found the GP also breached Right 7(1) of the Code by not giving an explanation on why he was performing a breast examination. Right 7(1) stipulates that services may be provided only if the consumer makes an informed choice and gives informed consent.  

"This is especially important for sensitive procedures such as breast examinations," James said.   

The HDC also found the GP to have breached Right 10(3) of the code, for "failing to provide an adequate" response to the woman's complaint, and instead made inappropriate comments about "her character, veracity and mental health". 

"While I acknowledge that Dr B has undergone difficult personal circumstances, throughout the HDC complaint process and investigation, he has provided only brief information in response to the complaint and has made inappropriate comments about Mrs A's general mental health."  

James said the GP accused the woman of "[d]rug seeking behaviour" and made insinuations about the woman's veracity, saying she "would say whatever to not paying the consultation fee (sic)".  

"Most of the complaints [in the region] and in NZ were mainly because of financial reasons, if they would complain about whatever, they would request a refund of consultations fees," the doctor is quoted as saying.

James said the GP, who has since moved overseas, "failed to provide an adequate response addressing all of the issues in the complaint" despite "multiple" opportunities and reminders from HDC.  

She added the correspondence sent to the GP were "opportunities for him to clarify and resolve" the issues raised by the woman.   

James said the GP will be referred to the Director of Proceedings for the purpose "of deciding whether any proceedings should be taken".  

"The GP's medical association in his home country will be sent the report and will be notified of his name."  

James made several recommendations to the GP, including a formal apology to the woman, and "should he return to practice in New Zealand, undertake relevant professional training".