Top Taz Psychiatrist Aaron Groves Suspended for Sex, Prescribing, Violating Code of Conduct

November 17, 2022

TASMANIA'S chief psychiatrist had his registration suspended because of an alleged relationship with a "highly vulnerable" female patient.

Last month, the national medical regulator announced Aaron Groves was temporarily unable to practise due to a suspension by the Medical Board of Australia.

At the time, the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) declined to comment due to privacy reasons. It can now be revealed that Dr. Groves has since had his employment temporarily “stood aside" and is no longer suspended on full pay. Dr. Groves applied to the Tasmanian Civil and Administrative Tribunal for a stay of immediate action on his suspension - a bid that failed late last week. According to the tribunal's newly-published determination, in March 2021, Tasmania's then Minister for Health, Sarah Courtney, met with a woman who alleged inappropriate behaviour by a Royal Hobart Hospital medical practitioner (not Dr. Groves).

"(The woman) was feeling extremely unsafe and fragile," tribunal senior member Lucinda Jack said.

"The minister and her staff were very concerned for (the woman's) wellbeing."

One of Ms Courtney's advisers spoke with Dr. Groves and arranged for him to contact the woman about her mental health.

Dr. Groves - whose role is statutory only, and does not involve treating individual patients - arranged for the woman to be seen by a practitioner under the Mental Health Hospital in the Home program.

"In December 2021, Dr. Groves and (the woman) commenced a personal relationship," senior member Jack said.

She also said in June this year, AHPRA received a notification from a pharmacist that Dr. Groves had prescribed a controlled drug.

In July this year, Dr. Groves was advised by the Department of Health secretary, Kathrine Morgan-Wicks, that "there were reasonable grounds to believe he may have breached the State Service Code of Conduct," with an investigation to commence.

In August, Ms Morgan Wicks told Dr. Groves it was appropriate for him to be suspended from duties on full pay. AHPRA received a notification about Dr. Groves the same month, concerning his relationship with the woman, with the Medical Board of Australia suspending his registration on October 3.

Dr. Groves argued he did not have a doctor-patient relationship with the woman.

But the board said his alleged breaches of professional and/or sexual boundaries were "demonstrative of a practitioner who has exploited the inherent power imbalance that exists between registered medical practitioners and people under their care."

It said that imbalance was "further exacerbated given Dr. Groves' standing as chief psychiatrist, and (the woman's) highly vulnerable mental state at the time."

The board said suspending Dr. Groves' registration was in the public interest, and a failure to do so could erode public confidence. The woman said while she did have a personal relationship with Dr. Groves, they had never had a doctor patient clinical relationship.

She also took issue with the suggestion there was a power imbalance between the two and also claims AHPRA had described she had been "exploited by a man in power."

In his application to stay the board's suspension, Dr. Groves argued failing to do so would likely cause irreparable harm to him, including financial harm, and that up until now, he had an "untarnished career and reputation."

But the board argued Dr. Groves had not come to the tribunal "with clean hands," alleging he'd misrepresented his financial position.

Senior member Jack said while Dr. Groves would likely suffer reputational damage and financial impacts as a result of his suspension, it could not be said the Medical Board was the sole cause.

A review of the board's suspension decision will be heard at an upcoming hearing.

Source: Amber Wilson, “Chief psychiatrist fights suspension: ‘Exploited by a man in power’,” Hobart Mercury, Nov. 3, 2022


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