Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency - Tribunal confirms suspension of GP's registration

Tribunal confirms suspension of GP's registration

25 May 2022

A tribunal has confirmed the decision of the Medical Board of Australia (the Board) to suspend a GP’s registration following allegations of inappropriate conduct and/or performance.

Trigger warning: Some readers may find this article distressing. If you are experiencing distress, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 for confidential help. If you are a medical practitioner, you can also visit the drs4drs website.

The Board took immediate action on 10 March 2021 and suspended Dr Sofoklis Lahanis’s registration (in effect from 11 March 2021) following a complaint from a female patient who saw him for the first and only time on 1 February 2021. Her complaint was about Dr Lahanis’s conduct and/or performance during a cervical screen and bimanual examination (an internal vaginal examination).

On 31 March 2021, Dr Lahanis lodged an appeal of the Board’s decision with the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (the tribunal). The tribunal heard the appeal on 31 March 2022.

The patient alleged that:

  • during the bimanual examination (while his fingers were still inside her), Dr Lahanis:
    • moved to the side of the bed next to her and said, ‘you are very beautiful’, then
    • leaned in close to her face and said, ‘can I …?’, which the patient interpreted as Dr Lahanis moving in to kiss her. The patient says she quickly said no, put her hands over her face, and sat up. (The patient and Dr Lahanis were both wearing masks at the time.)
  • Dr Lahanis did not obtain her consent or explain that an internal examination would be involved. (The patient understood that only a cervical screen would take place.)

Dr Lahanis’s position was that:

  • he does not dispute that he expressed words to the effect alleged by the patient but asserted that:
    • the comment ‘you are beautiful’ was made when he was sitting at his desk, before the examination took place, and was directed to the patient’s three-year-old daughter in an attempt to put her at ease, and
    • he said, ‘can I …?’, in the context of seeking the patient’s consent to continue the examination (English is the patient’s second language), and leaned towards her because he’d assumed the barrier of the mask made it harder for the patient to hear him
  • he asked for consent at every step of the examination, while explaining what he was doing.

The tribunal formed a reasonable belief that, because of his conduct, Dr Lahanis poses a serious risk to persons and it is necessary to take immediate action to protect health or safety. It considered that no immediate action short of suspension would be appropriate. The tribunal confirmed the Board’s decision in full.

The tribunal noted that although the circumstances of the matter point to a serious risk of Dr Lahanis engaging in improper sexual contact with female patients within a particular age group, its view was that the breach of trust involved in a sexual boundary transgression would usually mean that a practitioner posed some risk to all patients.

The tribunal also noted that:

  • gender-based conditions would be impracticable and tantamount to suspension in the context of Dr Lahanis’s aged care practice
  • restricting Dr Lahanis’s practice to telehealth consultations would not be appropriate, given that the allegations concern Dr Lahanis’s words as well as his actions, and
  • chaperone conditions would not be appropriate, noting the findings and recommendations set out in reports by Professor Ron Paterson in 2017 and 2020 following his independent review of the use of chaperones to protect patients.

Read the tribunal’s full decision on the AustLII website.

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Page reviewed 25/05/2022