Royal Commission releases findings into health care providers and regulators

20 April 2016

The Royal Commission’s Report of Case Study No. 27 – The response of health care service providers and regulators in New South Wales and Victoria to allegations of child sexual abuse, was released today.

The public hearing was held in May 2015 and examined child protection policies and procedures of the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC), the then NSW Medical Board, the Royal North Shore Hospital, the Northern Sydney Local Health District, the New South Wales Ministry of Health and the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne, Victoria.

In Case Study 27, the Royal Commission considered child sexual abuse in the context of both private medical practice and public hospitals, by health professionals and hospital volunteers. 

The Report noted that child patients are particularly vulnerable as they and their parents repose so much trust in medical practitioners that they permit those medical practitioners to view and touch intimate parts of the child’s anatomy. The private one-on-one settings of medical consultations and the propensity of child patients to follow instructions from adult health care providers without question place child patients in a highly vulnerable position.

The Royal Commission heard that from 1992, the NSW Medical Board received allegations concerning a registered medical practitioner, Dr Rolleston, sexually abusing teenage boys. The Report notes that there were no documents produced by the NSW Medical Council disclosing any steps taken to deal with the complaint and this was clearly not satisfactory. 

The Royal Commission heard that in 1998, AWC made a complaint of child sexual abuse against Dr Rolleston to the HCCC. There were lengthy and unacceptable delays in the HCCC’s investigation of the complaint. The NSW Medical Board was also informed of the complaint by AWC but failed to make a link to the 1992 complaint against Dr Rolleston.  In 2003, the HCCC and the Medical Board received two further complaints from AWH and AWO. Apart from the HCCC and the NSW Medical Council, the Royal Commission also heard evidence of numerous disclosures of child sexual abuse made by Dr Rolleston’s victims to medical practitioners and health professionals.

The Royal Commission found:

  • the HCCC did not refer the complaints by AWC and AWH to NSW Police or the New South Wales Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions  even though the HCCC’s governing legislation expressly permitted it to do so;

  • the HCCC decided to terminate the complaint of AWC and did not adequately take into account the allegations were of serious criminal offences and that Dr Rolleston was continuing to practice medicine in Broken Hill;

  • in 2003 and 2006 the HCCC’s approach to a complainant by AWH was insensitive given the nature of the allegations being made against Dr Rolleston and the complainant’s personal circumstances;

  • prior to 2009, the Medial Board did not exercise its statutory powers to protect the public under Section 66 of the Medical Practice Act 1992 (NSW); and

  • reporting obligations of medical practitioners concerning historical child sexual abuse under the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1989 (NSW) are not well understood by medical practitioners and further education and training is required.

In a separate case at the Royal North Shore Hospital in 1967, the Royal Commission found that, following the abuse of an 11-year-old boy by a psychologist at the CJ Cummins Unit, the North Sydney Local Health District was not able to locate any records of the complaint. 

The Royal Commission also heard that the father of the boy was discouraged by a Royal North Shore Hospital representative from going to the police to prevent his son from “interrogation and all those distressing things”.

The Royal Commission also examined a claim of child sexual assault against a volunteer at the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne (RCHM) in the 1980s. Although Victoria Police believed there would potentially be other victims, RCHM staff never confronted the volunteer – Mr Harry Otto Pueshel – with the allegations. 

The Royal Commission also heard that although Mr Pueshel’s services were terminated by the RCHM in January 1998, Mr Pueshel was still able to access the wards as there was no adequate system in place to prevent him from entering the wards.  The RCHM also failed to convey the request from Victoria Police for the complainant to make contact with them to further the investigation into Mr Pueschel.

Read the full report.

Content updating Updating complete