Provincial Government Announces Plan to Better Prevent Sexual Abuse of Patients

PrintIn December 2014, Ontario’s Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, Dr. Eric Hoskins, appointed a task force to conduct a review and to provide recommendations with respect to the prevention of sexual abuse of patients by regulated health professionals. The task force was established in response to a number of media stories that highlighted how the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario disciplines doctors who have sexually abuse their patients.

The Minister’s Task Force on the Sexual Abuse of Patients and the Regulated Health Professions Act, 1991 (RHPA) was co-chaired by human rights lawyer, Professor Marilou McPhedran and former Chief Justice of Ontario, the Honourable Roy McMurtry. Following its review, the task force issued a 300-page report outlining 34 recommendations on the issue. The recommendations ranged from amending the RHPA to allow evidence on the findings, orders or decisions in disciplinary proceedings under the RHPA to be admissible in civil proceedings, to providing funding and support for research and monitoring.

On September 9, the Liberal Government publicly announced its plan to uphold and reinforce a “zero-tolerance” policy regarding the sexual abuse of patients by regulated health professionals. Each of the government’s action items are based on recommendations outlined in the task force’s report.

Notably, the government intends to amend the RHPA this fall. The amendments will include:
• Adding to the expanded list of acts that will result in the mandatory revocation of a regulated health professional’s license;
• Removing the ability of a college to allow a regulated health professional to continue to practice on patients of one gender after an allegation or finding of sexual abuse;
• Increasing fines for health professionals and organizations that fail to report a suspected case of patient sexual abuse to a college;
• Increasing transparency by adding to what colleges must report on their public register and website;
• Clarifying the time period after the end of a patient-provider relationship in which sexual relations are prohibited; and
• Funding patient therapy and counselling from the moment a complaint of sexual abuse is made.

The Liberals have also undertaken to:
• Consult with an expert determine appropriate measures for improving the processes that health regulatory colleges must follow when dealing with sexual abuse complaints, investigations and disciplinary measures;
• Find ways to increase patient participation in the complaints, investigation and discipline processes at health regulatory colleges;
• Enhance education among the public, patients and health professionals; and
• Consult with patients and other key partners during the development of other policy and program changes throughout the health system.

While each of these action items will inevitably lead to increased protection for and support of patients, critics note that one of the task force’s primary recommendations will not be implemented this fall. The task force recommended that the government establish an independent body known as the “Ontario Safety and Patient Protection Authority” (OSAPPA). The OSAPPA’s mandate would include public education and outreach, support for patients reporting sexual abuse by regulated health professionals, and investigation of such complaints as well as adjudication by an independent OSAPPA Tribunal. The OSAPPA recommendation permeated many of the task force’s 33 other recommendations, so it is notable that, as of yet, the government has only committed to “consulting” with regard to its creation.

Jaime Cardy
Associate Editor