Following complaints received, the Victorian Health Complaints Commissioner Karen Cusack has commenced an investigation and imposed an Interim Prohibition Order (IPO) on Wodonga-based psychotherapist/counsellor Brian Hickman.
Mr Hickman, like all general health service providers, is subject to the Code of Conduct under the Health Complaints Act 2016.
“Complaints received by my office allege conduct by Mr Hickman that may be in contravention of the code of conduct for general health service providers,” Commissioner Cusack said.
“I do not make interim prohibition orders lightly, but where unsafe or unethical general health service providers pose a risk to the Victorian public, then I will take action.”
Mr Hickman's registration as a psychologist had been suspended on 14 September 2018 by the Immediate Action Committee (IAC) of the Psychology Board of Australia.
The IAC had formed a belief that Mr Hickman “posed a serious risk to persons” and it was necessary to take immediate action to protect public health or safety.
Since Mr Hickman's registration was suspended, six further notifications have been made to Ahpra and Ahpra is continuing to investigate these notifications.
Mr Hickman is believed to be continuing provision of psychotherapy, and/or counselling services which are general health services under the Health Complaints Act 2016.
In May 2019, Ahpra notified the office of the Health Complaints Commissioner of concerns relating to Mr Hickman’s practice as a psychotherapist and/or counsellor.
Based on the evidence provided and the severity of the matters raised by Ahpra, the Commissioner was satisfied that the further allegations relating to psychotherapy and/or counselling services, including the advertising of certain services, should be investigated.
The Commissioner then commenced an investigation under own motion powers. She was also satisfied that there was, and remains, a significant risk to the health, safety or welfare of the public and that this warranted the making of an Interim Prohibition Order (IPO) against Mr Hickman, prohibiting him from providing any general health services while the investigation was under way.
An IPO remains in force for up to 12 weeks, while an investigation is conducted. Multiple IPOs may be made throughout the course of an investigation to ensure there is sufficient time to investigate and collate evidence.
Ms Cusack explains that it is important to understand that Ahpra and the Health Complaints Commissioner exercise separate functions and have distinct powers with respect to different health service providers. For example, registered clinical psychologists are regulated by Ahpra, while counsellors and psychotherapists are regulated by the Health Complaints Commissioner.
Interim prohibition orders are important powers for the Commissioner where there is a serious risk to the health, safety or welfare of the public and prohibiting all, or part of the general health service, is necessary to avoid that risk.
“I would encourage any person who is concerned about the care they may have received from Mr Hickman, or any health service provider, to contact my office on 1300 582 113, or via the online complaint form at hcc.vic.gov.au/make-complaint,” Ms Cusack said.