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Medical Board investigates senior Victorian doctor after complaints

Associate Professor Leslie Bolitho, a former president of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, has had conditions placed on his registration pending final investigation. Zoe Stinson investigates.

Medical Board investigates senior Victorian doctor after complaints

Image: Shutterstock

Report by Zoe Stinson

A former president of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians is the subject of multiple complaints and has had conditions placed on his registration pending a final investigation.

Associate Professor Leslie Bolitho is a consultant physician and was president of the RACP from 2012-14. Until recently he mainly worked at Northeast Health Wangaratta and has been based in Wangaratta since 1983.

The Citizen understands complaints concerning Bolitho were made by a group of Royal Melbourne hospital registrars who were on secondment to Northeast Health in early 2019.

Lawyers representing Dr Bolitho have confirmed he is the subject of an investigation by the Medical Board of Australia.

Assoc Prof Leslie Bolitho has had conditions placed on his medical registration pending the outcome of an investigation. Photograph: Wikimedia

Assoc Prof Leslie Bolitho has had conditions placed on his medical registration pending the outcome of an investigation. Photograph: Wikimedia

The registrars, who usually rotate every six months, were visiting Northeast Health on a regional training rotation. Dr Bolitho was one of their supervisors.

The Citizen understands the registrars raised concerns about Bolitho with the Royal Melbourne hospital when they returned, and the Royal Melbourne passed the concerns on to Northeast Health.

After an independent investigation initiated by Northeast Health, the hospital made what is called a “notification” to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (Ahpra) about Dr Bolitho’s alleged conduct.

The notification was then passed to the Medical Board of Australia, which has the power to take regulatory action against physicians and which in March imposed conditions on Dr Bolitho’s registration while it investigated.

A spokesperson for Ahpra said: “Confidentiality provisions apply to us under the health practitioner regulation national law. They prevent us from commenting on individual matters unless that information is publicly available. This includes whether an investigation is currently under way. Conditions were placed on Dr Bolitho’s registration on 4 March 2020.”

The conditions on Dr Bolitho’s registration state he must not practise in any public or private hospital setting, must not supervise students or other medical practitioners, must not practise in any role related to education or training of other registered health practitioners, and can practise only in places approved by the Medical Board of Australia.

Dr Bolitho was initially limited to practising in three private consulting rooms where he had a pre-existing relationship. These were Wangaratta Medical Specialist Private Consulting Room, Wangaratta Cardiology and Respiratory Centre, and Border Cardiology and Respiratory Centre.

In September, the board also approved his practise at Yarrawonga Health Hub and Community Services and Alpine Health Myrtleford Southern Consulting Rooms.

The full list of conditions is available to view on Ahpra’s register of practitioners.

The Royal Melbourne Hospital confirmed that there was a “complaint made against a senior doctor at Northeast Health Wangaratta”.

A spokesperson said: “In early 2019, concerns were raised by RMH trainees on return from secondment to NHW. NHW were responsive to the concerns of the trainees. Throughout the process the trainees have been supported by the RMH.”

Mr Tim Griffiths, the chief executive of Northeast Health, said he would not comment on specific matters relating to staff but that NHW “is committed to providing a safe and respectful workplace”.

“Northeast Health Wangaratta … will act swiftly to investigate and take action in relation to any staff or patient complaints,” he said.

“A framework is in place to offer additional support to visiting staff during coaching and feedback sessions while they are working at Northeast Health Wangaratta.”

The conditions placed on Dr Bolitho were described as “unusual” by Associate Professor Marie Bismark, head of the law and public health unit at the University of Melbourne and a leading international researcher on the regulation of health practitioners.

“Restrictive actions, such as public conditions on a practitioner’s practising certificate, are the strongest measures health practitioner boards can take to protect the public from harm,” she said.

“Australia has over 700,000 health practitioners. Each year only a few hundred practitioners have conditions imposed on their practise.”

A 2016 study by the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health found that only one in 10 “notifications of concern” made to the medical board about a health practitioner result in restrictive action.

The Citizen does not suggest the Medical Board of Australia has made a finding of guilt against Bolitho by imposing conditions on his registration, or that its investigation will establish guilt, only that investigations are afoot.

Lawyers representing Dr Bolitho confirmed the investigation into his alleged conduct was ongoing, and that the conditions imposed on him were an interim action under section 156 of the health practitioner regulation national law.

“The substantive investigation into the notification is ongoing and as such the medical board has made no findings about Associate Professor Bolitho’s performance or conduct,” they said.

Section 156 of the national law says the board may take action against a registered health practitioner if it believes they pose a serious risk to people, to protect public safety, or if their registration was improperly obtained or is invalid.

Dr Bolitho’s lawyers said: “As the investigation is ongoing, we consider the publication of any details about the investigation to be prejudicial and irresponsible.”

A 2017 review into Ahpra’s national registration and accreditation scheme, conducted by Professor Ron Patterson, recommended that restrictions on practise and an explanation of their reasons be available on the public register to aid transparency and accountability.

Dr Bismark said: “The limited information on the register is insufficient to inform patients and the public … Patients should not have to resort to Dr Google to find information about a doctor’s previous disciplinary … record.”

This story is co-published with The Guardian Australia.

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