By Louisa Cleave, Sunday Producer
Warning: This story contains graphic details which may upset some readers.
A Kiwi doctor who sexually assaulted multiple patients at a Sydney healthcare centre was investigated over an intimate examination of a female patient in New Zealand, it can now be revealed.
Dr Sharif Fattah spent 20 years practising in New Zealand, working in public hospitals and health centres as a GP, before moving to Australia in 2015.
He was arrested in 2017 after three patients from a practice in the Sydney suburb of Camden went to police. More women came forward following his arrest, and by the time Dr Fattah went on trial he faced 30 charges of sexual assault and indecent assault involving 16 women.
A Sydney court was told Dr Fattah, 63, had performed medically unnecessary examinations on the women, aged 19-40, for his own sexual gratification, according to Australian media reporting his trial.
Dr Fattah denied all charges, calling the allegations untrue and “absolutely wrong”.
He was found guilty in May this year of 18 charges involving 10 female patients and has been sentenced to 16 years and 6 months imprisonment. His lawyer has indicated Dr Fattah will appeal.
It can now be revealed that Dr Fattah moved to Australia and offended against his patients after being investigated by the Health and Disability Commissioner in New Zealand, and subsequently faced a charge of professional misconduct by the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal.
Details of the New Zealand allegation can be reported following applications by TVNZ’s Sunday programme to lift name suppression.
The Health and Disability Commissioner (HDC) has confirmed it investigated Dr Fattah in 2014 over an allegation he touched a patient’s genitals and inserted his finger or fingers inside her during an abdominal examination.
The HDC found Dr Fattah breached the patient’s rights by not providing her with services "with reasonable care and skill’’, did not inform her of the examination and reasons for it, and didn't offer her a chaperone. He also failed to make records of the consultation at the time.
The HDC laid a charge of professional misconduct which was then investigated by the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal.
The Tribunal has today lifted suppression on its decision, saying there have been two complaints against him in New Zealand and given that, and the convictions in Australia, it was important the public was aware of his identity. The HDC has subsequently also lifted name suppression on its decision against Dr Fattah.
The investigations centred on the intimate examination of the female patient in Auckland in 2012. She went to him complaining of severe diarrhoea.
According to the Tribunal’s decision, Dr Fattah acknowledged he had examined the woman in the groin area but denied her evidence that he had touched her clitoris, then inserted his fingers and pressed inside the walls of her vagina.
The woman said Dr Fattah did not discuss what he was doing with her and the examination was brief. She later spoke to her partner about it, telling him the Doctor had conducted a vaginal examination which she said had been “strange and awkward’’.
The partner gave evidence of their conversation and a nurse also told the Tribunal that the patient had talked about Dr Fattah touching her “around the clitoral area”.
The patient was approached to make a formal complaint to the clinic after another female patient at the same clinic complained about Dr Fattah. He was then suspended from work.
The intimate examination of the patient presenting with severe diarrhoea was formally investigated two years after the consultation.
The patient told the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal that she felt the examination was strange “not because of the extent of the examination but because of the way in which it was conducted”, and also that she wasn’t offered a chaperone.
She did not feel Dr Fattah was being inappropriate “and assumed (he) was conducting an examination that he needed to conduct”.
Dr Fattah denied there had been any internal examination.
In its decision, the Tribunal said the patient was a “larger woman” and “may have perceived the doctor’s examination of her groin and hernial orifices as an examination of her genital and/or clitoral area” given the proximity of the areas.
Dr Fattah’s lawyer told the hearing that motivation was important when weighing up whether the doctor had done what was alleged. The Tribunal noted that there was never a suggestion of sexual motivation in the charge against him.
It said Dr Fattah did not communicate clearly with the patient to enable her to understand “what examination was being conducted and the reason behind it, and to give her consent”.
While the HDC investigation found it was more likely than not that Dr Fattah had conducted the intimate internal examination, the Tribunal’s investigation found there was insufficient evidence to support the charge. They noted it was "not a case necessarily of saying that the doctor’s version was preferred over that of the patient’’.
However, it did recommend Dr Fattah take advice and courses to improve his communication with patients.
At the time, the Tribunal members decided 3-2 in favour of giving Dr Fattah name suppression after he said that, regardless of the outcome, publication would impact on his standing within his community.
Dr Fattah was at the time involved in teaching Islamic education through an academy in Auckland.
In its recent decision, in response to TVNZ’s application, the Tribunal said his community standing would have been severely compromised and eroded by the convictions in Australia.
And, given the complaints in New Zealand and the Sydney convictions – including 13 counts of aggravated sexual assault and five counts of aggravated indecent assault – it was important for the public to be aware of his identity.
* 1 NEWS at 6pm will have a full report on Dr Fattah today.
* If you have further information relating to Dr Fattah, please email Louisa Cleave