The Ocean Shores Medical Centre where Dr John Gerard Holmes most recently worked.
The Ocean Shores Medical Centre where Dr John Gerard Holmes most recently worked. Kate O’Neill

Doctor struck off following affair

A LONG-serving Ocean Shores doctor has been struck off the medical register over a decade-long affair with a patient.

The admission by Dr John Gerard Holmes, 55, who has served in the Ocean Shores community about 27 years and most recently worked at the Ocean Shores Medical Centre, followed a series of escalating blackmail threats from the patient, starting when Holmes tried to end their relationship two years ago.

The NSW Medical Tribunal has now struck Holmes off the medical register for 12 months for the ethical breach.

The Tribunal heard Holmes contacted the Health Care Complaints Commission on March 29, 2009 – about two years after he first tried to end the relationship with the woman, described by the Medical Tribunal only as “Patient A”, and more than a decade after they began their affair.

The decision to call the commission was triggered by a long run of escalating threats from Patient A, who initially told Holmes she would go to the Medical Board if he ended the relationship.

The Tribunal heard Patient A frequently told Holmes after he first tried to end the relationship in late 2007 “don’t worry, I won’t report you as long as you do the right thing” and “remember, I have a gun to your head” and “I can pull the trigger any time I choose to”.

When, in 2008, Holmes formed a new relationship while on an overseas holiday the threats intensified. Now Patient A wanted $100,000 to buy her silence. A year later, she told Holmes she had lodged a complaint and she wanted $150,000 to drop it.

It was after receiving that threat Holmes decided to go to the Health Care Complaints Commission. He asked if the complaint had been lodged, outlined the threats against him and confessed to professional misconduct.

Son’s death

Holmes’ relationship with Patient A, when it happened, came as a shock to him.

It was the year after his infant son died. His wife had slipped into depression and over the course of the year they had drifted apart. At his hearing before the Tribunal, Holmes said he had thought at the time he was coping well with his son’s death but, on reflection, realised he had been emotionally vulnerable.

Then Patient A arrived for a post-natal check-up and a pap-smear.

Holmes had already been treating Patient A for seven years and when she told him that after the birth of her child she dreamt fondly of him hugging her and kissing her on the cheek Holmes “was overwhelmed with a feeling of desire and attraction” for her.

At the end of the consultation Holmes and Patient A embraced and passion took over.

Holmes told the hearing he felt “shock and numbness”. Nevertheless, the doctor and his patient continued seeing each other at consultations, with those consultations becoming intimate three or four times a year.

That changed in 2004 when Patient A separated from her husband and she and Holmes started seeing each other more frequently.

During that same period, Patient A falsely accused her now ex-husband of molesting his step-daughter – resulting in her eventually being convicted “hindering a serious indictable offence”. The following year Patient A was stabbed in the shoulder during a row with her ex, resulting in him being convicted in court and given a community service order.

As the intensity of their relationship grew, Holmes tried to stop Patient A consulting him as a doctor, but at times Patient A would still arrive at the medical centre and demand to see him.

By this stage the couple were getting serious and discussing having children together – although it would not be until the following year, 2006, that Holmes and his wife broke up after she discovered his affair.

Addressing the Tribunal, Holmes said: “I felt as though I loved her. Simple as that, really. It wasn’t a dalliance or a sexual fling or anything like that. I really thought, I believed I could have helped her. Now I know I didn’t and for that I apologise sincerely.”

With the end of Holmes’ marriage, his relationship with Patient A intensified further. They holidayed overseas together and over 2006 and 2007 met each other’sfamilies.

Their relationship appeared to be growing more solid, in truth it was rushing towards its end.

The Medical Tribunal did not hear at what precise moment the relationship between Holmes and Patient A soured, but by the end of 2007 the couple began to quarrel frequently.

Holmes decided to end the relationship and the threats began, intensifying the following year when he met someone else. It wasn’t until January 3, 2009, little more than two months before his fateful call to the Health Care Complaints Commission, that Holmes had his last consultation with Patient A.

Suicide considered

Under questioning at his hearing, Holmes said he continued seeing Patient A as a patient after they began their relationship because he mistakenly believed he could help her.

“I know in a sense it was a kind of delusion, where you think you can do it but you don’t really do it properly,” he said.

In the aftermath of that call, as he waited to go before the Tribunal, Holmes slipped into depression and a deep anxiety that left him considering suicide daily and ultimately prompted him to seek counselling.

From that point, Holmes began to analyse his relationship with Patient A and, in particular, his transgression of medical ethics in detail.

He told the Tribunal that reflection, combined with intensive study of the reasons for the rules against doctor/patient fraternisation, had crystallised his error and ensured it wouldn’t happen again.

In a statement to the Tribunal, prepared before the hearing, Holmes said he accepted responsibility for his actions.

“I blame her in no way,” he said.

The Tribunal accepted Holmes’ contrition and that he was unlikely to re-offend, noting “taken as a whole, these are an unusual combination of circumstances”.

It ordered, on top of the suspension, that Holmes paid the cost of the hearing, that he continued to consult a psychiatrist, and that he complete a medical ethics course with Monash University in Victoria.

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