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Medical regulator accused of failing to act on complaints -

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LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: Australia's health regulator, AHPRA (the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency), is meant to keep patients safe. But tonight it's facing acquisitions it's failed in its duty.

Eleven babies died at a Victorian hospital, most after the regulator was made aware of problems there.

And 7.30 can also reveal a rogue doctor sexually abused more than 100 male patients after the agency was been alerted to his behaviour.

For 18 months, the regulator has attempted to stop 7.30 from detailing how many doctors it's suspended or disciplined, but now we can finally bring you the details.

Ashlynne McGhee has this exclusive story.

And a warning that it contains images some viewers may find distressing.

(Footage of making coffee)



ASHLYNNE MCGHEE, REPORTER (voiceover): Tom Monagle is getting his life back on track after a traumatic assault that left him struggling to cope.

SHARON MONAGLE: You want sugar?


SHARON MONAGLE: So what time do you fly tomorrow?

(To Ashlynne McGhee) I became really distant: almost catatonic, really, just sort of holed up in my room. The end of 2015 and most of 2016 has kind of become a dark hole in my memory.

ASHLYNNE MCGHEE: Tom has Tourette Syndrome. Two years ago, when he was 19, he visited Melbourne neurologist Andrew Churchyard for treatment. The specialist asked him to strip naked for a full body examination.

TOM MONAGLE: He eventually ended up grabbing my genitals and sort of prodding them up and touching them. He was talking to me at the time.

ASHLYNNE MCGHEE: Tom was uncomfortable about it. He is from a medical family: both his parents are doctors. They discussed what happened and decided to give the neurologist the benefit of the doubt.

So Tom visited again three months later - and this time it was much worse.

SHARON MONAGLE: I remember you told us he said something like, um, "Well, I'm not a girl but you look pretty good to me."

TOM MONAGLE: I sort of looked down towards his - like, at his trousers and it seemed as though he may have had an erection when he was assaulting me. And that for me at the time was actually... kind of horrifying, kind of traumatic thing. That was probably the point at which I realised: this has all really just been for his sexual gratification.

ASHLYNNE MCGHEE: The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) is supposed to protect patients. Tom reported his sexual sort to AHPRA on the 30th of April, 2015. He heard nothing. Three days later, he phoned and was told they hadn't acted yet and weren't going to report it to police.

TOM MONAGLE: For me to have made that complaint - you know, in no uncertain terms about what happened - and for him to then be put in a position where he's enabled to do it again: that was probably more infuriating for me, because it kind of felt like I just hadn't been listened to.

(Excerpt from promotional video for 'My Virtual Medical Centre')

DR ANDREW CHURCHYARD: I have been a member of the editorial advisory board of the Virtual Medical Centre now for about two years.

ASHLYNNE MCGHEE: Tom reported Dr Andrew Churchyard to police in May 2015 and the doctor was charged with incident assault. He was released on bail and wasn't allowed to see patients without a chaperone.

But he never faced trial. Churchyard killed himself in 2016.

What Tom didn't know is that AHPRA already had a report on file about Churchyard's inappropriate sexual behaviour from eight years earlier, in 2007. The Medical Board labelled it a mere "boundary violation." It allowed Churchyard to keep practicing without restrictions and it kept its findings secret.

BREE KNOESTER, ADVICELINE INJURY LAWYERS: The only protective mechanism for patients is AHPRA. What's happened here shows that, clearly, there is a problem in how well they are protecting patients.

ASHLYNNE MCGHEE: 7.30 can reveal more than 100 of Churchyard's patients have now come forward with their own claims of sexual assault - the vast majority after that 2007 complaint.

BREE KNOESTER: They were all men, all aged between about 18 and 45, 50; and all with very similar stories.

ASHLYNNE MCGHEE: Lawyer Bree Knoester is representing most of the men.

BREE KNOESTER: There were certainly 10 people who were abused after Tom had gone to AHPRA. And for many of those 10 it wasn't the first incident: this was repetitive action by Churchyard.

MARTIN FLETCHER, CEO, AHPRA: I accept the concern there is about this and the fact that so many people have come forward since Dr Churchyard's death to raise these concerns about their own experience of the treatment with him.

We at the time - the board that was there at the time - dealt with the matter that was in front of them. The board then dealt with the matters that were in front of them subsequently and took regulatory action.

ASHLYNNE MCGHEE: Tom Monagle's mum, Sharon, heard another patient had reported sexual abuse to the regulator. But when she tried to tip off the police, she was floored by the regulator's response.

SHARON MONAGLE: ...And the detective I spoke to in turn made inquiries of AHPRA and was told that they couldn't divulge the information to police, either. And that actually resulted in the police issuing a search warrant on AHPRA for their records.

MARTIN FLETCHER: I don't believe we do obstruct the police. We seek to understand the information that the police need and, to the extent that it is lawful for us to do that, to meet that requirement.

SHARON MONAGLE: I feel like there is quite a bit of an effort to cover up what has gone before and to minimise their role. And AHPRA have really taken no responsibility for what's happened.

ASHLYNNE MCGHEE: Eighteen months ago I applied under Freedom of Information laws for AHPRA's register of practitioners, to find out how many doctors they had suspended or imposed conditions on.

The agency waged an expensive legal battle to try to keep that information secret.

But after taking them to court, they have finally provided us with these revealing figures:

AHPRA received nearly 11,000 complaints about medical practitioners in 2015 and 2016. We asked AHPRA to clarify how many related to sexual misconduct: 398.

And there's been another 125 notifications of sexual misconduct already this year. This means AHPRA is receiving nearly four sexual misconduct complaints a week.

But only 134 of the 11,000 complaints resulted in practitioners being suspended or having their licence cancelled.

When the medical regulator fails to act, the consequences can be fatal.

(Excerpt from 7.30, 16 October 2015)

MADELEINE MORRIS, REPORTER (Oct. 2015): Today Victoria's Health Minister admitted the Djerriwarrh Health Service at Bacchus Marsh Hospital on Melbourne's outskirts had failed the mothers and babies it was supposed to look after.

JILL HENNESSY, VICTORIAN HEALTH MINISTER (Oct. 2015): There is nothing that will ever mend the loss of losing a child.

(Excerpt ends)

(Footage of Natasha McMillan showing photo album to her daughters)

NATASHA MCMILLAN: Let's have a look. This was when Eloise was in Mummy's tummy.

ASHLYNNE MCGHEE: Eloise was Natasha McMillan's first baby.

NATASHA MCMILLAN: This is bath time. This is her first bath - her only bath.

ASHLYNNE MCGHEE: It had been a textbook pregnancy.

NATASHA MCMILLAN (to Ashlynne McGhee): I went overseas with her, and we, you know, had photos taken all around Europe and the UK and it was just perfect.

ASHLYNNE MCGHEE: But the baby was still-born at Bacchus Marsh Hospital in October 2011.

NATASHA MCMILLAN: I was knocked out for the procedure. But my husband had to watch them deliver my still-born baby girl. (Breaks down)

So when I woke up, there was my husband holding my little girl, telling me that she didn't make it.

ASHLYNNE MCGHEE: The McMillans found out three years later that Eloise was one of 11 preventable infant deaths at the hospital.

NATASHA MCMILLAN: I went back and had my other two children at the same hospital, because we were told that it was an accident and I thought: I need closure. I need to go back to where she was.

And then, it's like... Now I hear about it. I put my other two babies' lives at risk by going back there.

BETH WILSON, VICTORIAN HEALTH COMMISSIONER 1997-2012: The public have not been protected under the current system.

ASHLYNNE MCGHEE: Beth Wilson is Victoria's former health services commissioner. She's highly critical of AHPRA's failure to tell patients what it knows about their doctors.

BETH WILSON: I think the complaints that we hear are, indeed, the tip of the iceberg because, time and time again, one brave person will come forward and make a complaint.

ASHLYNNE MCGHEE: AHPRA has made some changes. It says it's talking more to victims, speeding up its investigations and developing a policy for if and when it reports sexual abuse allegations to police.

But the families 7.30 spoke to say they haven't seen any change yet and there is consensus among them that other patients are still in danger.

TOM MONAGLE: What's really helped me sort of start to move forward a bit is - sort of, rather than trying to see myself as a victim or even, you know, the term "survivor", I would sort of rather try and see myself as an advocate for the changes that really need to occur to stop this from happening to other people.