Doctors disciplined for professional misconduct in Australia and New Zealand, 2000–2009

Katie J Elkin, Matthew J Spittal, David J Elkin and David M Studdert
Med J Aust 2011; 194 (9): 452-456.


Objectives: To describe professional discipline cases in Australia and New Zealand in which doctors were found guilty of professional misconduct, and to develop a typology for describing the misconduct.

Design and setting: A retrospective analysis of disciplinary cases adjudicated in five jurisdictions (New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia and New Zealand) in 2000–2009.

Main outcome measures: Characteristics of the cases (setting, misconduct type, patient outcomes, disciplinary measure imposed), characteristics of the doctors involved (sex, specialty, years since qualification) and population-level case rates (by doctor characteristics).

Results: The tribunals studied disciplined 485 doctors. Male doctors were disciplined for misconduct at four times the rate of their female colleagues (91 versus 22 cases per 100 000 doctor-years). Obstetrics and gynaecology and psychiatry were the specialties with the highest rates (224 and 178 cases per 100 000 doctor-years). The mean age of disciplined doctors did not differ from that of the general doctor population. The most common types of offences considered as the primary issue were sexual misconduct (24% of cases), illegal or unethical prescribing (21%) and inappropriate medical care (20%). In 78% of cases, the tribunal made no mention of any patient having experienced physical or mental harm as a result of the misconduct. Penalties were severe, with 43% of cases resulting in removal from practice and 37% in restrictions on practice.

Conclusions: Disciplinary cases in Australia and New Zealand have features distinct from those studied internationally. The recent nationalisation of Australia’s medical boards offers new possibilities for tracking and analysing disciplinary cases to improve the safety and quality of health care.

  • Katie J Elkin1,2
  • Matthew J Spittal1
  • David J Elkin1
  • David M Studdert1,2

  • 1 School of Population Health, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, VIC.
  • 2 Law School, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, VIC.



David Studdert and Katie Elkin were supported by an Australian Research Council Federation Fellowship awarded to David Studdert.

Competing interests:

None identified.

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