Watchdog declares pretend doctor a 'public health risk'

A COVID-19 swab collector who pretended to be a doctor has been permanently barred from providing health services to the public. 

Jeremy Chatterton, 51, was investigated by the Health Care Complaints Commission after he was convicted of falsely claiming to be a doctor while working at a COVID testing clinic on Sydney's northern beaches in 2022. 

The former medical supplies salesman turned swab collector was discovered when he gave a patient being tested for the virus a "referral" to a general practitioner in Manly. 

The 24-year-old woman told police he had examined her throat and commented that she "seemed to have a lot of anxiety" about her health. 

Chatterton also claimed he was a "respiratory doctor" with his own practice in Sydney's north shore. 

When the woman went to the GP Chatterton had referred her, she immediately became suspicious of the informal letter and reported the incident to police.

When questioned, Chatterton made full admissions to the incident but was later unable to explain to a court why he he had pretended to be a doctor.

Chatterton was unaware that impersonating a doctor and doing an examination was a violation and classified as an assault.

A magistrate also determined Chatterton did not understand the seriousness of his actions. 

He was sentenced to an intensive correction order for 18 months, which expires on 20 June 2024, and a 12-month home detention order, concluding on 20 December 2023.

Following a separate investigation, the state's health complaints watchdog determined Chatterton had breached multiple codes of conduct for unregistered health practitioners.

The commission determined his conduct posed a risk to public health and safety and that protective orders were required.

Chatterton has been permanently prohibited from providing any health services to any member of the public, paid or voluntary.

"Impersonation of a doctor when a person does not have medical qualifications presents a serious risk that people will place reliance on the advice and also that they will fail to obtain the expert medical assistance that they require, potentially leading to a detrimental health outcome," the commission said in a statement. 

"The failure of this practitioner to understand and accept the significance of this risk heightens the need for significant protective action."

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