Successful prosecution of fake doctor 'a serious signal to others'

06 Jul 2018

The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA), on behalf of the Medical Board of Australia has successfully prosecuted fake doctor Raffaele Di Paolo for holding himself out as a registered medical practitioner.

Mr Di Paolo was sentenced today in the County Court of Victoria (the Court) after pleading guilty in April 2018 to five AHPRA charges of knowingly or recklessly using words that could indicate he was a health practitioner and a specialist health practitioner between 17 January 2014 and 10 November 2014.

Mr Di Paolo has never been registered as a medical practitioner or in any other regulated profession under the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme in Australia and has never completed a medical degree or equivalent qualification.The prosecution by AHPRA took place alongside a criminal prosecution for various indictable offences brought by the Victorian Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), sending a signal that justice will be served for patients and families betrayed and put at risk by fake practitioners.

The Health Practitioner Regulation National Law, as in force in each state and territory (National Law), establishes a number of offences for companies or individuals who represent themselves, or others to be registered health practitioners, without being registered to practise in a health profession or recognised specialty.

In this case Mr Di Paolo’s conduct included using the recognised specialist titles ‘Obstetrician’ or ‘Gynaecologist’ and using the initials ‘MD’.

On 27 October 2014, AHPRA received a notification from the Health Services Commissioner in Victoria about Mr Di Paolo and his conduct during a series of consultations with patients and families. Charges were laid on 16 January 2015 including that Mr Di Paolo had claimed to be a specialist health practitioner by using the term ‘gynaecologist’ or the term ’obstetrician’ in relation to himself and by failing to state that he was not a medical practitioner, or that he was in fact a homeopath.

Following media interest surrounding these charges, a number of further victims came forward. On 7 May 2015 AHPRA filed further charges against Mr Di Paolo for claiming to be a medical practitioner and specialist health practitioner. AHPRA also referred the matter to Victoria Police, who filed charges against Mr Di Paolo on 11 September 2015.

In relation to the DPP’s charges the court sentenced Mr Di Paolo to nine years and six months in jail, with a non parole period of six years and six months, and placed him on the sex offender register for life. For his offences under the National Law the court recorded a conviction against Mr Di Paolo and imposed a total fine of $5,000 as well as awarding costs to be paid by the defendant as agreed and taxed in the event of no agreement.

Reflecting on the outcome, AHPRA CEO Martin Fletcher said the decision by the court is a serious signal to anyone who falsely claims to be a registered health practitioner.

‘This is an exceptionally good outcome for patient safety. We will continue to do everything we can to prevent fake practitioners putting the public at risk.

'This was a complex investigation and I would like to pay tribute to the AHPRA officers who worked extremely hard so that this case could be prosecuted. The decision of the court sends a clear message that it is unacceptable for anyone to claim to be registered when they are not.’

Medical Board of Australia Chair Dr Joanna Flynn AM said the evidence given by Mr Di Paolo’s victims showed the impact of his deception on people who deserved good care.

‘It is never acceptable to breach the trust that is at the heart of the doctor patient relationship. Pretending to be trained and qualified when you are not breaks the law, betrays community trust and will trigger serious regulatory action,’ Dr Flynn said.

Make sure you are seeing a registered health practitioner

It is a serious matter if anyone who is not a registered health practitioner claims to be a registered health practitioner or uses titles that are protected under the National Law (e.g. medical practitioner). Both are offences and may be prosecuted by AHPRA.

The National Law protects the public by ensuring that only registered health practitioners who are suitably trained and qualified are able to use protected titles. The law allows for penalties to be issued by the Court for using protected titles or holding out as a registered practitioner when not entitled to. The maximum penalty which a court may impose per charge is $30,000 (in the case of an individual) or $60,000 (in the case of a body corporate).

It is important that you ensure that the practitioner you are seeing is appropriately registered. Anyone receiving treatment from a person who is claiming to be registered when they are not is a cause for concern. Remember to check the Register of practitioners or you can raise a concern by calling 1300 419 495.

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Page reviewed 6/07/2018