16 Jun 2021
A tribunal has reprimanded and imposed conditions on a pharmacist’s registration for professional misconduct by having personal and sexual relations with two patients.
In January 2019, a patient of Mr Timothy Hopwood, a Victorian pharmacist, made a complaint to the Pharmacy Board of Australia (the Board). In that month, the Board also became aware of Mr Hopwood’s relationship with another patient.
On 23 August 2019, the Board took interim action to suspend Mr Hopwood’s registration.
The Board alleged that Mr Hopwood had engaged in personal and sexual relationships with two patients, one of which was an employee, between 2010 and 2018. Further, Mr Hopwood had used his position and knowledge as a pharmacist to pursue a personal relationship with one of the patients.
The Board alleged Mr Hopwood was aware of each patient’s personal issues, which caused them to be psychologically vulnerable. Further, Mr Hopwood dispensed anti-depressant medication (as prescribed) for each patient.
Mr Hopwood encouraged each patient not to disclose the nature of their relationship.
On 12 September 2019, the suspension was stayed by order of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (the tribunal). Mr Hopwood resumed practising. In April 2020, Mr Hopwood sold his pharmacy. On 11 May 2020, Mr Hopwood gave an undertaking not to practise as a pharmacist. Pursuant to the suspension and subsequent undertaking, Mr Hopwood had been out of practice for 13 months.
At the videoconference hearing on Wednesday, 26 May 2021, the tribunal found that Mr Hopwood failed to maintain professional boundaries in that he had engaged in inappropriate personal, intimate or sexual relationships with the two patients, which amounted to professional misconduct.
On 4 June 2021, the tribunal ordered that Mr Hopwood be reprimanded and have conditions, requiring mentoring, imposed on his registration. The tribunal noted that if not for the time Mr Hopwood already spent out of practice, a prospective suspension would have been ordered.
Mitigating factors included Mr Hopwood’s clear professional disciplinary record over the 45 years he had been registered, positive references from local medical practitioners and his recognition that his conduct breached professional boundaries.
The tribunal outlined the profession’s codes of conduct and ethics required practitioners to: recognise that there is a practitioner/patient power imbalance; recognise and manage patient vulnerabilities; and manage actual and potential situations of conflict of interest.
The tribunal’s decision was published on the AustLII website on 4 June 2021.