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NZ Herald
Doctor struck off over historic indecent assaults against patient in Dunedin
June 22, 2018

Psychiatrist Bruce Spittle

Psychiatrist Bruce Spittle

A psychiatrist who practised in Dunedin has been struck off the medical register after being convicted of the indecent assault of a patient.

Dr Bruce James Spittle was censured and ordered to pay $5720 towards the costs of his prosecution at the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal.

The tribunal issued its written decision today following a hearing in Auckland in February. It says the convictions reflected adversely on Spittle’s fitness to practise medicine.

He was convicted in the Dunedin District Court in 2015 of the two counts of indecently assaulting a female patient in 1999.

She had a history of suicide attempts, drug overdoses and suffered from multiple mental health disorders. She attended Dunedin Hospital, where Spittle worked.

Both assaults involved the doctor touching his patient and in one, he encouraged her to touch him too.

The first assault occurred during a trip, part of a multi-disciplinary treatment plan, to an ice-skating rink. Spittle parked his car, in which the patient was present, in a secluded side street.

The second occurred in the patient’s bedroom at a hospital. The hospital is not named, but the tribunal says it was not Dunedin Hospital.

The district court sentenced Spittle to seven months’ home detention and ordered him to pay $15,000 reparation to the victim.

Shortly after being sentenced he gave a voluntary undertaking to the Medical Council to cease practising medicine until his appeal was determined and the council could consider the verdict.

The Court of Appeal rejected his bid to have the convictions overturned and the Supreme Court refused to hear a further appeal.

The Medical Council committee which brought the disciplinary charge against Spittle said that among aggravating features of the case were that his victim had suffered harm from his offending, including detriment to her ability to obtain psychiatric care and treatment.

Another aggravating feature was his lack of remorse.

“… [he] did not accept the conduct that was the subject of the convictions occurred. The [committee] did acknowledge the practitioner had accepted his conduct breached professional boundaries.”

But one of Spittle’s lawyer’s, Harry Waalkens, said his client’s continued denial of the offending was not an aggravating factor; instead it was the absence of a mitigating factor.

Waalkens said mitigating factors included the historical nature of the offending; that there had been no complaints against Spittle since then; that he voluntarily ceased practising; and that he did not seek name suppression.