The Duty of Care Mental Health Professionals owe to their Patients

A psychiatrist who repeatedly brought religion into the therapy room has been disqualified for inappropriate treatment of his patients. The NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal barred A. Sharah from registering as a medical practitioner for two years after they made a finding of unsatisfactory professional conduct.

The tribunal stated that while an exploration of a patient’s religious beliefs might be necessary for treatment or diagnoses, in these cases, “the practitioner was pressing his religious beliefs on patients in a proselytising way”.

We examine the legal ramifications of the treatment received by patients of Sharah and how this could potentially lead to claims for compensation by his patients.

Mental Health Professionals’ Duty of Care to You

Psychiatrists have a duty of care to their patients to provide advice, care and treatment. The care provided should be of a standard that would be widely accepted by peer professional opinion as competent professional practice. Failure to provide such a standard may lead to a negligence claim being brought by their patient, and even disqualification from registering as a medical practitioner.

For a claim to be successful against Sharah his patient/s would have to prove:

  1. that his treatment of them fell below a reasonable standard of care; and
  2. that as a result of this they suffered damage.
Treatment fell below a reasonable standard of care

This treatment is peer assessed, meaning that the standard of care will be determined by what other psychiatrists perceive as competent professional practice. Given the very nature of what Sharah told his patients, it is likely that his treatment has fallen below the reasonable standard of care.

The finding by the tribunal of unsatisfactory professional conduct is also likely to assist in proving that he breached his duty of care to his patients.

As a result of this failure they suffered damage

The patients must establish that Sharah has not only breached his duty of care by failing to provide reasonable care resulting in injuries, but they must also prove that the most likely cause of their injury was the doctor’s failure to take reasonable care.

So any claim for compensation made by the patients would be for the additional mental distress that his treatment caused the patient (i.e. not the medical condition that they originally sought his treatment for). This additional mental distress could be in the form of:

  • an exacerbation of their current condition; or
  • a new mental condition.

Your Options

If you are concerned about your psychiatrist’s behaviour or treatment you have the following options open to you:

  • You can make a complaint to The Royal Australian & New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP);
  • You can make a notification to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency;
  • You can make a complaint to the Office of the Health Ombudsman (Qld).
  • You can contact a solicitor in regards to the prospects of a successful medical negligence claim.
Claims in Queensland are brought as a medical negligence claim under the Personal Injuries Proceedings Act 2002. These involve a number of steps and it’s always best to consult an expert lawyer on what your options may be.

If you have been subject to medical negligence and would like more information about what to do next, you can call one of our medical negligence lawyers to discuss your options and where you can go from here.

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