We have requested a meeting with the Minister of Health to discuss our call to support the College of Physicians and Surgeons' demand to amend legislation to include sexual touching and revoke Peirovy's medical license.
ANDREW FRANCIS WALLACE / TORONTO STAR
Doctors in Ontario can grope their patients and keep their licences, and the government has no clear timeline to address what has become a growing concern.
The issue, highlighted by a 2013 Star investigation, led Health Minister Dr. Eric Hoskins to launch a task force in December 2014 to study sexual abuse among health-care professionals.
Sixteen months later, he is unable to say when the task force’s report will be released, or whether he believes doctors found guilty of groping, by their medical college, should be automatically stripped of their licence to practise medicine.
“I fully intend to release the report and recommendations and I expect to be able to do that in the relatively near future,” Hoskins told the Star in an interview Thursday.
The report is currently undergoing a lengthy legal review.
The issue was again raised this week when a discipline committee of the College of Physicians and Surgeons chose to suspend, rather than revoke, the licence of Toronto physician Dr. Javad Peirovy for sexually touching four patients.
Peirovy denied the allegations before the committee, and his lawyer declined to comment to the Star.
Lawyers for the college had asked for Peirovy’s licence to be taken away, and the college has said it is considering its appeal options.
The college’s registrar said in a statement Wednesday that the regulatory body was disappointed with the decision of the discipline committee, which is independent of the college.
Revocation is mandatory under the Regulated Health Professions Act for nearly every form of sexual abuse, including penetration, oral sex and masturbation, but touching remains a grey area and revoking a physician’s licence is entirely at the discretion of the discipline panel hearing the case.
The CPSO proposed last September that the government amend the act to ensure that all forms of sexual contact lead to revocation, something critics had been demanding for years.
“I do not understand why sexual assault should not require automatic revocation,” said medical malpractice lawyer Paul Harte. “It is an obvious and clear gap in the legislation, and why would it not be fixed immediately? Is a 14-year-old girl who’s molested without penetration deserving of less protection?”
Progressive Conservative health critic Jeff Yurek said in an interview that a doctor should suffer a loss of licence for groping, and that he would assume the issue could have been dealt with a lot quicker in the legislature.
“They swear an oath to cause no harm, and obviously any form of sexual abuse is going to traumatize patients, who would never get over that, and the fact that (Peirovy) is only suspended is outrageous,” he said.
He added he’s concerned there could be more cases dealt with in a similar fashion before amendments are made to the legislation.
“I think swift action would have highlighted the importance of this abuse that has been occurring without proper penalties.”
Hoskins told the Star mandatory revocation is one important element, but he wants to wait until releasing the task force’s recommendations before proposing amendments to the RHPA, which was enacted in 1994.
“It was important to look at these other areas at the same time, to make sure that a straightforward and important change does get to other issues of the RHPA,” he said, “including prevention, victim support, working with the institutions that educate our health-care professionals.”
When asked if he believes a doctor found to have sexually touched his or her patient should lose their licence, Hoskins said:
“I’m a physician myself, and I believe that that bond and trust between a patient and a health-care provider is almost sacred, and it has to be respected.”
He added that patients “need to have confidence that we have a system in place to provide the appropriate measures to be taken against that individual (physician), while also supporting victims.”
The victims in the Peirovy case were “traumatized,” according to the discipline panel, which decided to suspend him for six months. The panel concluded that he was at a low risk to reoffend, mainly due to the evidence of a forensic psychiatrist.
The CPSO would not make its registrar available for an interview Thursday, citing its review of the Peirovy case, but pointed out ways in which it has tried to improve its processes for dealing with sexual abuse of patients, including adding more disciplinary information about physicians on its website and a policy on sharing information with the police.
Task force chair Marilou McPhedran, who has also headed two previous task forces looking into these issues, noted that concerns about the discretion exercised by discipline panels, such as in the Peirovy case, have been raised at public hearings.
She pointed out that the RHPA has never prevented discipline panels from revoking a health-care professional’s licence when doing so would be in the public interest and patient safety.
“We made this point 15 years ago in the second task force report,” she said, “and we continue to see cases that raise the same concern today.”