Prominent paediatrician Antony Underwood has admitted an affair with the mother of two patients, in the first instance in NSW of a doctor being brought before the NSW Medical Tribunal over a relationship with a patient's relative.
Dr Underwood, who practises the anthroposophic or Steiner approach to medicine from private rooms in Gordon, admitted his relationship with the woman amounted to professional misconduct.
Under cross-examination by barrister Patrick Griffin on behalf of the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission, which brought the complaint against him, Dr Underwood said, "The possibility of a sexual relationship arose and I took that opportunity."
Dr Underwood, who specialises in treating autism through diet and other alternative methods, said "infatuation" had "clouded my judgment" and indicated the affair had been emotional as well as sexual.
On one occasion physical contact occurred between the woman and Dr Underwood in the presence of her daughter, the tribunal heard.
Mark Lynch, Dr Underwood's barrister, said, "Dr Underwood accepts ... a paediatrician is entrusted with the care of the patient, and the parent is standing in the shoes of the patient and is sometimes even more vulnerable," because of the strength of attachment to their child.
The case comes amid growing acknowledgement that sexual "boundary violations" may extend beyond patients and to relatives and close friends of patients.
Dr Underwood told the tribunal, which has the power to deregister, fine or impose licence conditions on doctors, that he understood the gravity of his action.
"I've experienced first-hand the harm I've created to my patient, the mother of my patient and most particularly the father of my patient who has suffered most severely as a consequence of my actions. To say it's etched on my psyche would be an understatement," he said.
Mr Griffin said Dr Underwood's prompt admission to the facts of the case was to his credit, but the fact he continued the relationship over a period of years without seeking the advice of colleagues or referring the woman's children to a different doctor was an aggravating circumstance.
Mr Lynch emphasised his efforts subsequently to seek the help of a psychiatrist and support from another doctor as mentor.
"He has educated himself in a significant way," Mr Lynch said. "He accepts the harm that he's caused the family and he's developed techniques that make it extremely unlikely he'd ever reoffend [in a similar way.]"
Judgment was reserved to a future hearing.