Trigger Warning: Discusses themes of sexual assault
Today signalled one definitive conclusion to a devious medical practioner’s reign of abuse. Naomi Fryers take a few moments to honour the brave survivor who helped bring him down. One mental health consumer dared to speak out about a heinous injustice and consequently ensured the safety of others, all in the wake of her own trauma.
Prabakar Rajan Thomas was a Melbourne doctor who has undergone a spectacular fall from grace since his days as my psychiatrist at one of Melbourne’s most elite mental health recovery facilities. Two weeks ago, in a County Court hearing open to the public from 10.30am, those present listened to impact statements relating to Thomas’ heinous sexual assault against a patient who he was supposed to be caring for. He had entered a guilty plea and was sentenced this morning to a fourteen month minimum in prison.
For many years I’ve been open about the fact that I’m a mental health consumer but what some may not know is that I was a mental health consumer at Delmont Private based in Melbourne’s Glen Iris. I utilized the Delmont Private Consulting Suites as my contracted service provider for both inpatient and outpatient services. My health insurance provider Medibank Private listed them and their “staff” as preferred providers. Delmont’s own shiny website promised they’d have consumer’s health in mind. Among their “staff” listings was a former psychiatrist of mine, the now disgraced former medical doctor and psychiatric specialist Prabakar Rajan Thomas.
For approximately two years Prabakar Rajan Thomas was my treating psychiatrist, while I was under Delmont’s direct care. Throughout that time, I was hospitalized, misdiagnosed and prescribed medication which impacted my mood and lead me to rapid cycle. I was made to feel uncomfortable and harassed in consultations and was questioned about my sexuality and whether I was lactating. After consulting subsequent psychiatrists, I now realise these questions were completely inappropriate in terms of my symptoms in that clinical setting.
Eventually, while under Dr. Thomas’ care I fell into a crisis-situation. At that time, I was left without a treating doctor due to Prabakar Rajan Thomas’ unavailability. According to his wife, who consulted my obstetrician from Knox Private Hospital over the phone, Dr. Thomas was on holidays. Little relevant documentation was made available for a handover to another carer in his absence.
Having lost faith in all his practicing capabilities, I transferred to a different doctor at the same facility. A short time after complaining to my new psychiatrist about Dr Thomas’ conduct, I became aware that Dr. Thomas had been publicly named as an alleged sex offender.
At the time he had been charged and was facing court for molestation of a patient.
It quickly became apparent that my concerns about his behaviour were well founded. I filed an Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Agency (AHPRA) notification about my dealings with the doctor and subsequent concerns in late 2017. I had no idea that he would later admit his guilt in relation to the previous matter and be up for sentencing in the Melbourne County Court.
When I initially became aware of Dr Thomas’ criminal charges and the fact, he had access to my files and personal information I sought guidance from my then caregivers at Delmont Private Hospital. The Executive Director tactically refused any onus of responsibility despite the fact I had been an inpatient there under their direct care in conjunction with Dr. Thomas. Disconcertingly, I was told that as a sub- contractor of Delmont Private Hospital, the suspended psychiatrist was now the sole owner and custodian of my outpatient medical files. These would contain details of my fraught and confidential medical history among myriad personal details and information.
Delmont Private had billed me for substantial amounts of money both as an inpatient and outpatient through Medibank Private. I also had some gap fees and other out of pocket expenses to pay as well. In a meeting with the hospital Executive Director of Delmont in late November 2017 I requested that my fees paid for the care I received from Dr Thomas be reimbursed. They refused to acknowledge the role of the hospital in exposing vulnerable patients to a sex offender. And at no point had they made follow up with his patients regarding welfare.
Instead, Delmont opted for a sweep- it- under-the-rug approach. I assured them this would not work out well in the long run. But, as a direct result of being stonewalled from an amicable solution I was compelled to change health service providers after some many years of prior continuity of care. After the hospital declined to reinstate my medical fees I approached Medibank Private who had advertised Dr. Thomas’ services as a preferred supplier.
Medibank Private rejected what they kept referring to as a “compensation claim” even though on several occasions I explained that I was not seeking compensation, but rather a reimbursement for inadequate service provision that exposed me to undue worry and concern about my privacy and overall health. During this time, I felt the need to reiterate the fact that I am survivor and refuse to be made a victim. However, what I did seek was a reimbursement of my money back for inadequate care paid in good faith to their preferred provider because I was mistakenly led to believe that their doctors would be thoroughly screened with rigour.
Neither Delmont Private hospital nor Medibank Private were willing to take the onus of responsibility over my improper treatment at the hands of a practitioner with suspended registration and (by then) proven legal guilt in terms of exploiting patients, including those most vulnerable. However, Delmont Private Hospital did issue me with an email expressing their regret over my experience most recently on March 21st, 2019 in which they also condemned Dr Thomas’ conduct.
Medibank Private indicated that they may entertain my request perhaps subsequent to a complete and thorough Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency – AHPRA investigation. AHPRA (who initially registered the doctor) allegedly from the back of an MBBS dated back to 1975 (recognized by the Tamil Medical Council) are still investigating my lengthy complaint at a snail pace which may lead to a further VCAT hearing for the man in question.
This piece is far from a pity party though. It’s not even about exposing the glaring failings of the mental health care system where, alarmingly Dr. Thomas practiced in both the private and public sector (including dealings with involuntary patients). Ultimately, I’ve felt betrayed, let down, retraumatized and then abandoned. Not just by the doctor in question, but re-perpetuated by Delmont Private Hospital and my own private health insurer, Medibank Private.
AHPRA itself hasn’t exactly been the shining beacon of hope one could wish for either (but that may indeed be a whole other article).
The main point of this piece though, is about standing in solidarity with the person on the receiving end of the former doctor’s particularly horrific abuse of power in relation to the sexual assault charge previously documented by Wayne Flower in The Herald Sun in April of 2017.
So, to the person who took a stand in the face of the worst kind of abuse of power, I walk in solidarity with you AND your exceptional bravery. You are a survivor. You are strong. Your selfless actions have likely saved countless others from Dr. Thomas’ negligent and worse still, abusive excuse for “care”. And although you don’t me personally but I’m just another voice (albeit slightly more- shaky for this chapter of the voyage) echoing your sentiments. We were both duped on so many levels.
Our biggest mistake was apparently to work towards our arduous recoveries in what was already a fraught journey. We could never have anticipated that we’d be treated this way. We certainly didn’t deserve negligent treatment. We deserved better.
Irrespective, I thank you on behalf of current mental health consumers and vulnerable women of Melbourne. You have likely saved countless others from the kind of insidious sickness and subsequent abuse of power we were exposed to and for that, you deserve our collective gratitude, always.