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  • You are in a position of trust with your patients and their carers, and you must not abuse that professional position.
  • Sexual or inappropriate emotional relationships with current or former patients are likely to cross professional boundaries.
  • You should seek advice from a colleague or professional body if you are in doubt about maintaining professional boundaries.
  • You should also alert colleagues to the risks of unprofessional behaviour and report their actions if they are putting patients at risk.
This Guidance does not change what you must do under the law.
You must never abuse your professional position,288 for example by pursuing a sexual or inappropriate emotional relationship with a patient or their carer. This is because it can damage public trust in the optometric profession, and the inappropriate relationship may affect decisions you can make about a patient’s care.
You are in a position of power and trust with your patients and should maintain appropriate boundaries in how you communicate with your patients and their carers.
You should not express personal beliefs, including political, religious and moral beliefs, to patients in ways that could exploit them if they are vulnerable, or which might distress them.
The definition of a carer in this section of guidance is a professional carer, family member, partner or friend who looks after the patient to the extent that they are part of their clinical experience, for example a parent who accompanies their child to hospital.
If you are attracted to a patient, you must not act on these feelings. If you are not sure whether this is affecting your professional judgement, you should discuss this with a colleague or with your professional or representative body.
You should be sensitive to cultural differences in personal boundaries.
You must not use a patient’s contact details that they have supplied to the practice for healthcare purposes to contact them about personal matters.
If a patient or their carer pursues a sexual or inappropriate emotional relationship with you, you may need to seek advice from a colleague or professional or representative body to decide on the best course of action.
If a situation cannot be resolved you should not continue to treat the patient.
You should think carefully before pursuing a personal relationship with a former patient or carer. However consensual a relationship appears to be, if a complaint is made, the onus will always be on you to show you have acted professionally and sought appropriate advice.289
A sexual or personal relationship with a former patient or their carer may be inappropriate because:
  1. your former professional relationship may still influence the relationship
  2. if the patient was vulnerable when they were under your care, may still be vulnerable
  3. you may still be caring for other members of the patient’s family.
If you are aware that a colleague or other healthcare professional has breached personal or sexual boundaries with a patient or carer, you should alert them to the dangers of this unprofessional behaviour.
If you are asked for advice by a colleague who feels attracted to a patient or carer, but has not acted inappropriately, you are not required to inform anyone. You should, however, remind your colleague that they must not abuse their professional position.
If you consider a colleague is putting patients at risk, you should consult the relevant professional, representative or regulatory body. See section on Raising concerns.
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