Doctor struck off after being found guilty of sexually assaulting patient
By Craig Hoyle
February 21 2018

Psychiatrist Bruce Spittle

Psychiatrist Bruce Spittle

A Dunedin psychiatrist found guilty of sexually assaulting a mentally unwell patient has been struck off.

Bruce James Spittle repeatedly molested the woman in 1999, when she was suffering from a number of mental health disorders.

The 72-year-old was stripped of his medical license at a hearing of the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal’s Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) in Auckland on Wednesday.

He was also censured, and ordered to pay $5720 in costs.

His victim, who has name suppression, laid a complaint in 2012 detailing his offending against her.

She described how the psychiatrist took her ice skating as part of her treatment. During one of those trips he sexually assaulted her while parked in a side street.

In a second incident, he fondled the woman while visiting her at a hospital care unit.

The patient raised concerns about his treatment methods in 1999, although she did not allege any sexual touching at that time.

The doctor acknowledged then he had crossed professional boundaries and become too involved with the complainant. However he denied his feelings toward her included any sexual intent.

Spittle was found guilty at a jury trial in 2015 following the woman’s later complaint. He has maintained his innocence.

He was sentenced to seven months’ home detention on both charges, and ordered to pay $15,000 in reparation.

At the trial, the woman said she had delayed going to police because she was ashamed and embarrassed. She also drew attention to her religious upbringing and immaturity.

She said Spittle had repeatedly threatened to have her sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

The PCC heard the victim “suffered real harm” as a result of Spittle’s offending, and struggled to obtain psychiatric care and treatment.

The doctor accepted ahead of Wednesday’s hearing that the Tribunal would “inevitably cancel his registration” – he attended the hearing in person, accompanied by his wife.

Lawyer Dale La Hood, representing the PCC, said Spittle’s behaviour was unacceptable.

“The public has a legitimate expectation that medical practitioners will behave in a morally and ethically acceptable way, and this high standard was not met by Dr Spittle,” said La Hood.

“Dr Spittle’s offending fundamentally undermines the trust and confidence that the public must have in a registered medical practitioner.”

Defence counsel Hannah Stuart acknowledged Spittle would lose his registration, but said the tribunal should take several mitigating factors into account.

Stuart said Spittle had no prior convictions, had voluntarily ceased practice, and did not seek name suppression.

In addition to being a psychiatrist Spittle has been a vocal anti-fluoride campaigner, serving as Editor-in-Chief of the International Society for Fluoride Research until 2014.

According to his CV, a copy of which was posted online, he was a senior lecturer at the University of Otago Medical School from 1978 to 2004.

Spittle also wrote a series of books about supposed moa sightings in New Zealand.

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Bruce Spittle