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Sydney Morning Herald

Teacher's pest: top health official sacked

Natasha Wallace Health Reporter

June 17, 2008
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THE chief medical officer of HealthQuest, the medical screening body for all public servants, has been sacked after telling the Education Department a teacher it intended employing was being investigated by police for defamatory website postings about him.

There is no evidence the teacher was being investigated by police.

An external investigation by the former NSW Police deputy police commissioner David Madden found that Dr Peter Dodwell inappropriately passed on information regarding the teacher - who had been found fit for duty by HealthQuest in 2006 - to the Education Department in an attempt to adversely influence its decision to employ her.

The teacher did not want to be named over concerns it would affect her employment prospects.

HealthQuest terminated Dr Dodwell's employment on March 26, according to documents seen by the Herald.

Mr Madden had found that two of the five allegations made by the teacher against Dr Dodwell were substantiated.

An independent review by the former magistrate John Heagney supported the Madden findings.

The Madden report found that Dr Dodwell "communicated inappropriately with the officer who referred [the teacher] for assessment of her fitness to begin employment … including stating that [the teacher] was: linked with what Dr Dodwell considered to be defamatory postings on a public website; and being investigated by police in relation to the website postings".

The other substantiated allegation was that "despite finding her fit to begin duties as a teacher, Dr Dodwell sought to influence her employer with the intention of interfering inappropriately with her employment prospects with DET [the Department of Education]".

The teacher's allegation that she had been victimised because she had complained about HealthQuest 10 years ago was rejected.

The teacher was medically retired after being declared unfit for duty by HealthQuest in 1997 due to "cognitive dysfunction", a decision overturned by the Medical Appeals Panel five months later.

Mr Madden said the teacher had no opportunity to defend herself against Dr Dodwell's claims and he should be disciplined for breaching privacy restrictions.

"The way in which he [Dr Dodwell] went about informing the Department of Education was inappropriate and not reasonable behaviour of a public official … As the officer has seemingly breached his responsibilities, the matter should be treated as a disciplinary matter."

He said "Dr Dodwell's motivation appears to have been to have the Department of Education review its decision about employing [the teacher], but the evidence would suggest he did so largely on the basis of the seemingly defamatory attacks on him on the various websites".

The chief executive of HealthQuest, Jill Hennessy, apologised to the teacher in a letter dated April 4, 2008. "I sincerely regret any distress or hardship that Dr Dodwell's actions may have caused you. I hope that you will accept my apology," Ms Hennessy wrote.

She said Dr Dodwell denied the allegations and considered the Madden and Heagney reports as "seriously flawed".

Ms Hennessy said she had referred the matter to police and the NSW Medical Board.

The Health Care Complaints Commission assessed the complaint and last month referred it to the NSW Medical Board, which is unable to confirm what action, if any, it is taking.

Ms Hennessy told the Herald there had been no previous complaints made against Dr Dodwell since he took up the position in July 2005. She would not comment on the website postings.