22 June 2018

Service and Health Practitioner Vetting

The ACAT decision in Medical Board of Australia v Dhaimat (Occupational Discipline) [2018] ACAT 64 reveals vetting failures and procedural questions regarding an ACT health practitioner convicted of sexual assault.

The ACAT report notes
On 5 January 2015 the Medical Board of Australia (Board) applied to the Tribunal for orders cancelling the registration as a medical practitioner of Dr Ammar Dhaimat. 
The Board alleged that on 14 September 2011, during a consultation, Dr Dhaimat engaged in inappropriate comments and inappropriate touching of a female patient, and inappropriately disclosed information about that patient to a third party. The Board further alleged that on 25 April 2013 during a consultation with another female patient, he placed his hands on her bottom, forcefully pulled her towards him and kissed her on the lips. In relation to the 25 April 2013 incident, Dr Dhaimat had been charged, and on 12 March 2014 he was convicted in the ACT Supreme Court on two counts of committing an act of indecency.
The report states
On 19 January 2015 when the matter first came before the Tribunal for directions Ms Tomlins for the Board advised the Tribunal that the Board had been unable to effect service upon Dr Dhaimat at his previous addresses in O’Malley and Isaacs. She proposed to issue subpoenas to ACT Corrective Services and ACT Health to identify a more current address. The matter was adjourned to allow this to occur. 
When the matter came back before the Tribunal on 18 March 2015, Ms Tomlins advised the Tribunal that although documents had been produced, there had been no success in finding a current address for Dr Dhaimat. The Board proposed to file an application to dispense with service. The matter was adjourned for the anticipated application to be filed and heard. 
The Board filed an interim or other orders application on 25 March seeking orders that the application for disciplinary action proceed without service of that application on the respondent. That application was heard on 15 May 2015. The Board sought that either the requirement to serve Dr Dhaimat with the application be dispensed with, or that substituted service orders be made allowing for service to be effected by post to the most recent residential and practice addresses of Dr Dhaimat. 
The Board relied upon affidavits of Ms Tomlins which detailed the extensive efforts undertaken to locate Dr Dhaimat in order to effect service of the application for disciplinary action upon him:
(a) Personal service had been attempted at both the O’Malley and Isaacs addresses, ineffectively. The process server advised that Dr Dhaimat was not known at those addresses. 
(b) Attempts to serve by post at the Isaacs address, resulted in mail being returned to sender. 
(c) An attempt to serve by post to Dr Dhaimat’s last professional address resulted in the practice advising that it had no contact with Dr Dhaimat and could not provide the documents to him. 
(d) Contact was made with Dr Dhaimat’s lawyers for the criminal trial, they had no current instructions and referred to a more recent solicitor. Contact with that solicitor was also unsuccessful, he had no instructions and no current contact with Dr Dhaimat. 
(e) As foreshadowed, ACT Government entities were issued subpoenas, and further addresses in Hughes (from 2014) and Mawson were elicited, but these also proved unsuccessful when service was attempted. The process server advised Dr Dhaimat was not known at the Hughes address, and was no longer at the Mawson address with the current occupant believing he had left Australia in 2014. 
(f) Enquiries with the practice manager of Dr Dhaimat’s previous practice and with the Jordanian embassy were unsuccessful. (g) Searches of Facebook and the Whitepages were unproductive. 
(h) A subpoena to the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service produced records which indicated that Dr Dhaimat had not left Australia under his own name, in the past year. 
(i) An advertisement had been placed in the legal notices section of the Canberra Times on 28 March 2015 in the following terms: “Notice is given to DR AMMAR DHAIMAT, you should contact the ACT Government Solicitor on (02) 6205 2502 or actgso@act.gov.au by COB 8 April 2015, otherwise legal proceedings may be determined in your absence.” No telephone call or email was received in response to that advertisement.
The Board advised that in accordance with section 193 of the National Law Dr Dhaimat had been notified of the referral to the tribunal by letter dated 6 May 2014. That letter had been sent to the Isaacs address. The Board also advised that Dr Dhaimat had failed to comply with the requirement under section 131 of the National Law that he advise the Board of any change in the address to be used to correspond with the practitioner. 
I noted that on the tribunal file, the registry had received marked ‘return to sender’ earlier correspondence notifying Dr Dhaimat of the time and place of the previous directions hearings. That correspondence had been sent to both the Mawson and Hughes addresses. 
From this evidence I was satisfied that Dr Dhaimat was likely to be still in Australia, and that attempts to serve him by post with the application at the addresses suggested by the Board were not likely to bring the application to his attention, but on the contrary were likely to be completely ineffective.
ACAT concludes
After consideration of the material filed by the Board and its submissions, I was satisfied that the alleged behaviour had occurred. The behaviour in relation to each of the female patients was in my view, both individually and taken collectively, so far short of the standard of practice reasonably expected of a practitioner of Dr Dhaimat’s level of training and experience as to amount to professional misconduct . 
The material filed by the Board further indicated that Dr Dhaimat’s misbehaviour was not an isolated occurrence. Dr Dhaimat had trained in Jordan, and was in practice in the United Kingdom when on 29 September 2007 police were notified of an allegation that he had sexually assaulted a female patient. Dr Dhaimat was arrested that day, interviewed by the police and granted bail which he subsequently breached. At the time of the hearing before the Tribunal he was still wanted by UK police. The UK General Medical Council (GMC) in 2008 suspended his registration, and advised the Jordanian authorities of this action. 
It transpired that Dr Dhaimat had moved quickly to obtain a certificate of good standing from the GMC only weeks after his arrest and had relied upon this to obtain registration in Australia. When a further certificate of good standing was required in 2008, it seems that he submitted a fraudulent document to the Australian authorities. 
Police executing a search warrant at Dr Dhaimat’s residential premises in 2013 found evidence of fraudulently created documents, and numerous appointment cards containing the names and telephone numbers of women, including the details of one of the complainants in this matter. 
Against this background, I was satisfied that the continued practice of Dr Dhaimat posed such a risk to the public that the only appropriate orders to make were those cancelling Dr Dhaimat’s registration as a health practitioner.