Doctors are sworn not to do anything that would harm their patients. The Department of Health and the Medical Council are the responsible watchdogs.
However, a recent case of alleged workplace violence not involving a patient has raised concerns about the accountability of private hospitals to the department, which licenses them, and the council, which governs their conduct. Last month an obstetrician at Matilda International Hospital allegedly assaulted a midwife, who reported the incident to the police the same day. But the department said it did not learn about the case until an inquiry from this newspaper earlier this month.
It declined to take action because 'the incident was not a reportable sentinel event and there was no impact on patient safety'. Meanwhile, the doctor has been suspended and resigned her right to admit patients to Matilda, and the police say both parties agreed to settle the dispute.
Three years ago Adventist Hospital suspended the same doctor after she allegedly assaulted a pharmacist. Criticism from the Patients' Rights Association finally prompted the hospital to report the matter to police and the council, which said that a violent act by a doctor that did not involve a patient did not fall under its jurisdiction. This is despite a broad definition of professional misconduct that includes an act that would reasonably be regarded as disgraceful, unethical or dishonourable.
There is no suggestion that patients were or could have been harmed, and the department and the council are right to make that a paramount consideration.
But non-professional disputes, let alone violence in the workplace, between doctors and other health professionals are not in the best interests of patients. Hospitals should be compelled to report serious incidents and let the department and the council be the judges.