The landmark decision by a Tasmanian Court follows criminal charges laid by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) for hiring 11 people posing as registered physiotherapists or occupational therapists when they had no such qualifications.
In February this year, Mr Michael Sylvester Dempsey pleaded guilty to charges of hiring 11 people who were unregistered and unqualified and was convicted this week, receiving a record fine of $120,000.
The hired individuals, who had backgrounds in unrelated industries including hospitality and transport, provided pain management services to around 78 patients between 67 to 99 years of age across different Tasmanian aged care facilities.
In the Tasmanian Magistrates’ Court, Launceston, Mr Dempsey admitted to knowingly hiring unqualified people as registered health practitioners to aged care facilities.
AHPRA Chief Executive Officer Martin Fletcher says the record fine outcome shows AHPRA’s determination to stop unlawful and deceptive behaviour towards the Australian community.
Mr Fletcher says, “The deliberate, intentional and deceptive behaviour uncovered as part of this case is of the most serious kind perpetrated on vulnerable people in aged care facilities.
“AHPRA will not hesitate to take action if we identify someone is practising as a registered practitioner when they are not registered.
“It also highlights the importance of the public and employers checking the online national register of practitioners to make sure services are being provided by a registered health practitioner.”
The investigation by AHPRA began last year after a complaint from a registered chiropractor employed by Mr Dempsey’s company, Libero Health Care Pty Ltd (Libero).
After the investigation, AHPRA levelled allegations at Libera for “engaging unregistered people to provide regulated health services, specifically complex health care, to residents at aged care facilities”.
APHRA also alleged that the hired individuals were instructed to falsely assume and sign the names of registered practitioners when given treatment to aged care residents they visited.
In September of last year, Mr Dempsey had his physiotherapist registration suspended by the Physiotherapy Board of Australia.
This year in January, Mr Dempsey’s business, Libero, went into liquidation and is no longer trading.
The Physiotherapy Board of Australia Chair, Ms Kim Gibson, and Occupational Therapy Board of Australia Board Chair, Ms Julie Brayshaw, both welcomed the court’s landmark ruling, which will set a strong precedent for deceptive conduct by registered practitioners.
In a joint statement, Ms Gibson and Ms Brayshaw says, “To claim another person is registered, when they are not, is serious as it puts vulnerable people at risk and threatens patient safety.
“We expect registered practitioners to know better. This type of intentional, unlawful behaviour will not go unchecked.
“Together with AHPRA, we as National Boards will continue to ensure regulation of physiotherapists and occupational therapists to protect the public.”