Doctor banned for patient love affairs — (The Age)

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The Age Australia

Jill Stark

November 29, 2006

A LEADING Melbourne psychiatrist who was suspended for an affair with a patient has been banned from practice again after he was found to have lied under oath to cover up a second sexual relationship.

Ian McColl Fitzgerald ­ once described as “one of Victoria’s best psychiatrists” ­ was suspended for five years at a hearing of the Medical Practitioners Board yesterday after admitting a two-year sexual relationship with a severely depressed woman who was having suicidal thoughts and hearing voices.

The father of four had been disciplined by the board in 2001 for a relationship with another vulnerable patient that lasted nearly three years.

Giving evidence at the 2001 hearing, Fitzgerald vowed never to repeat his offences ­ but at the time he was almost one year into the relationship with the second patient.

At yesterday’s hearing, the three-member panel found Fitzgerald guilty of unprofessional conduct of a serious nature, and infamous conduct in a professional respect.

Counsel assisting the board, Melanie Young, said the woman, who began the relationship with Fitzgerald in January 2001, was quite ill and suffering a sense of persecution and hopelessness about her life.

“She was severely depressed and had been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder,” Ms Young said. “Her marriage had broken down, leaving her a single mother with a young child.”

She said Fitzgerald ended the affair with the first patient in November 2000 and began a sexual relationship with the second woman in January 2001.

After suffering from depressive symptoms, he stopped working at his Melbourne practice in September 2001 and appeared at a hearing in December that year to answer allegations about the first affair.

Ms Young said Fitzgerald had told the board in 2001 that he was remorseful and “deeply distressed and humiliated” by his actions.

“He gave evidence on oath to the panel that he had never had a relationship with another patient and that he never would have a relationship with another patient,” Ms Young said. “He also gave evidence that he knew this relationship with the first patient was wrong … but what he didn’t tell the panel was that he was already involved in a second relationship with a patient on that very day.”

Counsel for Fitzgerald, Fiona Ellis, said several factors leading to her client’s first affair were also relevant to his second relationship. He was depressed at the time of starting the new affair and suffering the effects of an acrimonious marriage breakdown in 1997. He faced bankruptcy, was stressed at work and “completely cleaved by grief” at being separated from his four children.

Prior to ending the relationship in April 2003, he had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, stopped taking his antidepressant medication and enrolled in a postgraduate diploma in professional ethics.

Ms Ellis said her client’s “pathological vulnerability” and “neediness for emotional relations” obscured his professional judgement.

In a letter Fitzgerald had sent his children, he said: “I’ve made horrible mistakes, not simple transgressions of ethicism but errors of judgement … I failed the test and I didn’t even realise I was in the exam room.”