Physiotherapist given record fine after employing unqualified people to treat elderly

Melissa Davey

A Tasmanian court has fined a physiotherapist $120,000 – the largest fine ever recorded against an individual under the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law Act – after he employed unqualified people to treat aged care residents with pain issues.

Michael Sylvester Dempsey employed 11 people as physiotherapists and occupational therapists through his company Libero Health Care Pty Ltd, none of whom held formal qualifications. Instead, his staff had backgrounds in professions including transport and hospitality, and they went on to treat about 80 elderly people for pain relief across several aged care facilities in Tasmania.

In January, Libero was placed into liquidation and is no longer trading. It followed the revocation of Dempsey’s registration as a physiotherapist in September. His scam was exposed by a disgruntled former employee.

In a joint statement, the Physiotherapy Board of Australia and the Occupational Therapy Board of Australia said the landmark fine imposed on Tuesday by the magistrates’ court in Launceston should send a strong message.

“To claim another person is registered when they are not is serious as it puts vulnerable people at risk and threatens patient safety,” the statement said. “We expect registered practitioners to know better. This type of intentional, unlawful behaviour will not go unchecked.”

Dempsey pleaded guilty to the charges which were laid by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (Ahpra). The chief executive, Martin Fletcher, said the case highlighted the importance of the public and employers checking the online national register of practitioners.

“If you think someone is not registered and they should be tell Ahpra,” he said.

The Ahpra investigation found that Dempsey’s unqualified staff had been instructed to falsely assume the names of registered practitioners when providing treatment to aged care residents, who were aged between 67 and 99.

Under the national law, which regulates healthcare practitioners, Dempsey faced a maximum fine of $480,000.