Indian-origin psychiatrist suspended for misconduct

The Queensland Civil & Administrative Tribunal has shared shocking details in the disciplinary proceedings against Indian-origin psychiatrist

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The Queensland Civil And Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) has revealed shocking details in the disciplinary proceedings against a psychiatrist of Indian origin accused of engaging in an inappropriate relationship with a vulnerable patient.

In it’s ruling, the Queensland Civil And Administrative Tribunal has handed down its judgment in the case involving Indian-origin psychiatrist  Dr. Hemant Kumar Sharma, who was accused of engaging in an inappropriate and exploitative relationship with a vulnerable patient. The tribunal’s findings revealed the extent of the psychiatrist’s egregious misconduct that lasted over two years and resulted in severe consequences for both parties involved.

The judgment detailed how Dr Sharma, a 50-year-old psychiatrist working at the Townsville Private Clinic, breached professional boundaries by engaging in an inappropriate relationship with a 24-year-old female patient under his care. The tribunal found that he quickly abandoned proper professional conduct, referring to the patient as his daughter, socialising with her, and even providing her with substantial financial assistance, including a car valued at $29,000.

“The relationship became sexual and the respondent and the patient travelled to Europe together in April 2018. They used illicit drugs together. He invested half a million dollars in a café and restaurant run by the patient and her partner. He purchased a home for the patient and her family to live in rent free. The respondent estimates that over the period of their relationship, he spent 1.5 million dollars on the patient and her family, though it is not clear how much of that was lost, since, presumably, some of that includes the cost of the purchase of the home,” reads the judgement.

Throughout the proceedings, the Indian-origin psychiatrist Dr Sharma’s own vulnerabilities came to light, as it was revealed that he was financially exploited by the patient. The tribunal acknowledged the psychiatrist’s significant medical experience, having previously worked as a cardiothoracic surgeon before becoming a psychiatrist in 2015.

The tribunal’s decision came earlier this year, after considering multiple expert opinions, including one from Dr. John Varghese, who treated Dr Sharma for his neurodevelopmental and psychodynamic vulnerabilities. Dr. Varghese emphasised that while the psychiatrist demonstrated considerable insight and remorse, he would still pose a potential risk to the public, especially if he were to see female patients.

Considering the gravity of the boundary violations and the paramount principle of public safety, the tribunal imposed a three-year suspension on the respondent’s registration, effective from April 30, 2023. This suspension will not only serve as a reprimand for the psychiatrist’s appalling breach of professional obligations but will also provide time for him to undergo ongoing treatment and peer supervision.

“The jurisdiction in QCAT is protective rather than punitive, and the safety of the public is of utmost importance,” the tribunal noted. They further emphasised that such significant boundary violations should be met with substantial sanctions to deter any other medical practitioners from engaging in similar misconduct.

While acknowledging the consensual nature of the relationship, the tribunal also recognised the severe power imbalance between the psychiatrist and the vulnerable patient, making boundary violations by psychiatrists particularly concerning given the patients’ vulnerabilities.

“The case is of a particularly unusual nature,” the tribunal remarked, pointing out the Indian-origin psychiatrist’s unique circumstances and financial losses arising from his engagement in this inappropriate behavior. Nevertheless, they underscored the importance of maintaining the reputation and confidence the public has in medical practitioners.

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