Chiropractor avoids Interim Suspension for Sexual Relationship with Former Patient

A Chiropractor alleged to have had a sexual relationship with a former patient avoided a suspension today. Chiropractor “A” was said to have developed the relationship when the patient was still attending the clinic. He was described as “..abusing his position as a chiropractor to manipulate woman into having sexual intercourse with him“.

Jonathan Goldring, instructed by John Williams of Bankside Law successfully defended the application for an interim suspension which could have seen Chiropractor A prevented from working as a chiropractor pending the outcome of the investigation. Whilst the Investigating Committee (“IC”) of the General Chiropractic Council only have the power to suspend for two months, the Professional Conduct Committee (“PCC”) can impose an interim suspension until the case is concluded which can sometimes take up to a year or longer. It is important therefore to resist the first application at the IC as the PCC will often follow suit, albeit the legal requirement is for them to consider matters afresh.

As is very common in these types of cases, the former patient made the complaint after the relationship had ended against her wishes. When things go wrong and end badly a complaint to the regulator can be used as a way of ventilating anger and/or emotional pain. Even after the dust settles and the complaint is withdrawn (which is again very common), it is not unusual for the regulator to continue to pursue the allegation as their primary duty is to protect the public.

Another common feature of professional and sexual boundary cases is that much of the evidence includes text messages and photo media sent between the parties. This evidence will often be “cherry picked” by the complainant and will not always include the full picture. Accordingly it can be useful in these types of cases to have a full record of any phone, email or text communications so that the relationship can be assessed in its proper context. If records have not been kept, sometimes a forensic computer or phone analysis may be an option to recover the lost data.

In this case Jonathan was able to persuade the Committee that Chiropractor A did not pose a serious risk to the public whilst the case was being investigated. He reminded the Committee that the 2016 GCC guidance on maintaining sexual boundaries specifically envisages situations when chiropractors might become sexually attracted to former patients. Although the guidance does not blankly prohibit such relationships, it does warn to exercise particular caution before deciding whether to embark on a sexual relationship with a former patient.

Some of the key considerations in the guidance for chiropractors finding themselves in this position include assessing:

  • How long the professional relationship lasted and how recently it ended;
  • Whether the former patient was particularly vulnerable at the time of the professional relationship, and whether they might still be considered vulnerable;
  • The nature of the previous professional relationship and whether it
  • involved a significant imbalance of power;
  • Whether an exploitation of power, trust or knowledge obtained whilst there was a professional relationship has influenced the development or progression of a sexual relationship; and
  • Whether they are, or in future are likely to be, treating other members of the former patient’s or carer’s family.

If in doubt it’s probably a good idea to get some advice from a colleague, a professional body or association or a lawyer.

Further guidance on maintaining sexual boundaries can be found on the Professional Standards Authority website here.