'How can I protect myself from allegations of sexual touching during treatment sessions?’
Patient complaints of alleged sexual touching are not uncommon and male clinicians working in private practice are particularly vulnerable. Allegations may be treated as a criminal matter, and at the very least will result in an HCPC investigation.
There’s some actions you can take to protect yourself:
- Prior to an appointment, patients should be informed that they may need to remove some clothing and be advised to wear suitable underwear or bring shorts etc. to the treatment session. They can be invited to bring a chaperone if that is their preference.
- Seeing individuals in a state of undress may be a daily occurrence for you, but could be deeply disconcerting for some individuals depending on their cultural and gender conditioning. There is a wide variety of attitudes as to what are acceptable levels of bodily contact and undress. Even where a particular form of treatment is justified, it may not always be appropriate.
- Consent is critical at every stage of a treatment. You should tell the patient the risks and benefits of the proposed treatment, and remind them that they can withdraw consent at any time. Be alert to the patient’s body language – if s/he indicates that they are uncomfortable, check again if they are OK with how you are treating them.
- Always offer access to a suitable chaperone for close and intimate examinations, and record if your patient declines this offer. Ensure too that your patients have their privacy and dignity protected during a treatment session. Be aware of your own physical contact with them.
- It is good practice to leave the room whilst the patient undresses and dresses, and to cover any areas not needed for examination and treatment.
- Don’t share personal information about yourself or seek information of a personal nature unless it is directly related to their presenting conditions. Certainly don’t express feelings of a sexual nature to your patient.
Saraka Keating is a CSP senior negotiating officer
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