NSW health authorities knew about sexual abuse complaints against a trusted family doctor in 1992 but failed to act for almost two decades, putting more children at risk, an inquiry has found.
There may be other victims of convicted pedophile Dr John Phillip Rolleston who have never come forward, the child abuse royal commission’s report released on Wednesday said.
NSW health care regulators received allegations about Dr Rolleston sexually abusing boys from 1992.
The NSW Health Care Complaints Commission did not tell police about two victims’ complaints, the royal commission found.
There were also lengthy and unacceptable delays in its investigation of a 1998 complaint by one victim, AWC, who felt discouraged from going to police by his dealings with HCCC.
The NSW Medical Board was also told about AWC’s complaint but failed to link it to the 1992 telephone calls.
The HCCC wrongly decided to end the investigation into AWC’s allegations of serious criminal offences at a time when Dr Rolleston was still practising medicine and there was a need to protect patients from the risk of predatory activity by him, the commission said.
“Ultimately, the (investigation) report observed that after 22 years there was no longer a public interest in taking disciplinary action and recommended that no further action be taken.”
The commission criticised the HCCC for its insensitive approach to a 2003 complainant and for ending that investigation without considering the similar reports against Dr Rolleston.
The commission said that by November 2006 the Medical Board knew about three complaints against Dr Rolleston but did not exercise its statutory powers to immediately suspend or restrict a medical practitioner’s registration.
Dr Rolleston continued to practise medicine without appropriate conditions on his registration until June 2009, the commission said.
“Having regard to the power given to the Medical Board to protect children, this was a significant failure to act to protect children who may have been at risk of assault by Dr Rolleston.
“Although we know of people who have reported sexual abuse by Dr Rolleston when they were children, it is reasonable to assume that others were abused who have never come forward.”
Dr Rolleston, who worked as a GP in private practices and hospitals, was arrested in 2009 and later jailed.
The commission also found Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital never confronted a volunteer with allegations of child sexual assault from the 1980s, despite police believing there would potentially be other victims.
The hospital sacked Harry Otto Pueschel in January 1998 but made no mention of the allegations, which the commission said left open the possibility of him working elsewhere as a volunteer.
He was still able to access the hospital wards after being dismissed.
The commission said a Royal North Shore Hospital representative discouraged the father of a boy abused by a psychologist in the late 1960s from going to police, to spare him from “interrogation and all those distressing things”.
The victim told the commission that psychologist Frank Stuart Simpson sexually abused him under the guise of play therapy to treat his asthma.
In a statement issued by Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital on Wednesday, chief executive officer Christine Kilpatrick said allegations aired in the inquiry forced it to further review and strengthen safety, protection and welfare practices.
She said inquiry testimony taught the hospital that only “eternal vigilance” would give the community confidence that all children in their care were safe.