“Off-field” behaviour

Prof. Tony Eyers1

1Macquarie University

Most professional sports, in response to high-profile players having behaved badly in their private lives, have introduced codes of conduct that apply to off-field behaviour, and their regulatory bodies have shown their preparedness to penalise those that transgress them.

In August 2014 the Australian ABC, through its Four Corners program, reported that, A highly paid neurosurgeon who indulged his cocaine addiction, paid thousands of dollars for sex and was directly linked to the death of two prostitutes avoided detection and continued to practise at a private Sydney hospital.” 

While this was an extreme case, the co-regulatory process of professional oversight in NSW is regularly notified of various forms of “off-field behaviour” by healthcare practitioners.  While the primary purpose of the regulatory process is to protect the public, the question is begged as to what it means to be “a fit and proper person” to practice as a healthcare professional.  There is, no doubt, further interest in seeking to preserve the good name of the healthcare professions in the public eye.  The legislation underpinning the co-regulatory process does not specifically address the issue of “off-field behaviour” by healthcare professionals.

Examples of the “off-field behaviours” to which I refer include, but are not restricted to; charges relating to drink-driving offences, notifications of doctors and medical students found in possession of prohibited substances (often when attending concerts or patronising night clubs), incidents of Intimate Partner Violence, and “problem” gambling.

This presentation will open this theme for discussion.  It will seek to identify the principles which should guide the regulatory bodies, in NSW and Australia-wide, in responding rationally and consistently to these behaviours.  A broader discussion should also involve healthcare professionals themselves and their professional colleges and associations, universities, and providers of healthcare indemnity.


Tony Eyers is a general surgeon. He is Professor of Ethics in Surgery and Medicine in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at Macquarie University in Sydney. He is also a member of the Medical Council of NSW, and is currently chairperson of the Council’s Health Committee.

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