Late last year, a West Australian Avant member was driving near
Margaret River when he saw a man lying on the side of the road with a bicycle
close by. He was clearly in need of medical assistance.
made a split-second decision to stop and assist. The cyclist was unconscious
and not breathing. As a result of our member’s resuscitation efforts, he was
revived prior to the ambulance arriving.
But, what if he hadn’t
CASE UPDATE - Dr Dekker’s guilty verdict overturned for leaving
scene of accident
Case study: ‘improper conduct’
another Western Australian doctor - Dr Dekker, a radiologist - was involved in
a ‘near miss’ with another car after dark.
The doctor did not see
the other car crash, but heard noise of an impact. She didn’t stop, but drove
to the nearest police station to report the accident.
later, under the Medical Act 1894 (WA) the West Australian State
found the doctor’s failure to stop and render assistance amounted to improper
conduct in a professional respect (conduct that would reasonably be regarded as
improper by professional colleagues of good repute). The tribunal noted that if
she had not reported the accident to the police she would have been guilty of
‘infamous conduct’ (conduct that could justify striking the doctor from the
In finding the doctor guilty of improper conduct the
- While the doctor did not have a doctor-patient
relationship with the occupants of the second car, based on her admission that
she suspected there had been an accident with the potential for serious injury,
there was a sufficiently close link between her conduct and the practice of
medicine to create an ethical duty to render assistance.
- The doctor
should have assessed the situation and the injuries and rendered first
- Saving human life is a core purpose and ethic of the medical
- Even though the doctor had no medical equipment or first
aid kit, her knowledge and skills as a medical practitioner would have enabled
her to make an assessment and render first aid.
introduction of the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (as adopted by
each state and territory), doctors - apart from those in New South Wales - can
now be charged with ‘professional misconduct’ or ‘unprofessional conduct’.
Doctors in New South Wales can be charged with ‘unsatisfactory professional
conduct’ or ‘professional misconduct’. In all jurisdictions, an allegation of
‘professional misconduct’ is more serious and can result in suspension or
What does this mean for you?
Under the National
Law decisions made by individual tribunals can be persuasive in cases
determined elsewhere. Regardless of where you live, you could risk a finding
of unprofessional conduct if you fail to assist at an accident.
duty to assist in an emergency is set out in the Medical Board of Australia’s
Code of Conduct. The code states that: “Good medical practice involves
offering assistance in an emergency that takes account of your own safety, your
skills, the availability of other options and the impact on any other patients
under your care”.
The code says that the ethical obligation
continues until your services are no longer required.
So, if you can
provide assistance without compromising your safety, you are under an ethical
obligation to assist to the extent you can (within your level of expertise).
This means that students are required to act within their level of
experience. While they can’t say ‘I am a doctor’, they can offer first aid.
Likewise, qualified doctors also need to act in accordance with their level of
If a patient requires resuscitation and you are unwilling
to perform unprotected mouth-to-mouth ventilation, guidelines state that
compression-only CPR is appropriate.
Good Samaritan laws
throughout Australia provide protection from legal liability as long as care
is given in good faith and you are not impaired by drugs or alcohol at the
As a member of Avant, your Practitioner Indemnity Insurance
Policy covers you, subject to its terms and conditions, for any claims that
may arise in relation to you providing care as a Good Samaritan. It also
extends to Good Samaritan acts worldwide.
If you need advice
about giving Good Samaritan aid, call Avant’s Medico-legal Advisory Service on
1800 128 268.
Know your cover
For more information on how
you are covered for Good Samaritan Acts in Australia and worldwide, refer to
your relevant Avant policy:
Indemnity Insurance Policy
• Practitioner Indemnity Insurance Policy (Interns, Doctors
in Training, Hospital Employed Doctors, GPs, specialists, doctors winding down
Medical Board of Australia v Dekker  WASAT 182
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