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Shirtless physio performed treatment on public lawn, spoke about cannabis and swore at patient

Editor Written by Editor · 4 min read >

Physiotherapist Lance Easton has been found guilty of professional misconduct. Photo / LinkedIn

A physiotherapist massaged a patient on a public lawn in bare feet, told her about the first time he experienced marijuana and dropped the word “c**t” into conversation during a treatment session.

Now the Coromandel man, who also took his shirt off during a treatment of a woman who was wearing only a bra and underwear, has been censured and fined, and can finally be named.

In a decision of the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal released this week, Lance Easton’s penalty was revealed after earlier being found guilty of a single charge of professional misconduct covering multiple incidents.

He was earlier granted interim name suppression but the tribunal declined to suppress his name permanently.

Easton had a decade-long career as a physiotherapist, which included working for the Thames Valley provincial rugby team and running his own practice.

The main allegations stemmed from a female patient who had two appointments at Easton’s Pauanui-based Albatross Physiotherapy clinic in January 2019. The clinic operated out of an annex building next to the Pauanui Club.

The patient, whose name is suppressed, claimed that during her first appointment, Easton said “F**k the ACC form” as she filled it out while he was massaging her.

She further alleged he slid behind her on a chair while he was performing the massage, and pressed his chest against hers while she was undergoing treatment on a plinth.

Of those allegations, the tribunal found only the swearing was likely to have taken place. It found Easton was unlikely to have positioned himself on the chair as alleged, and the evidence of him lying chest to chest was not sufficiently persuasive.

But a further allegation that Easton hugged this patient at the end of the appointment, telling her she needed ‘heart against heart’ hugs was proven.

Lance Easton worked out of his own clinic in a building next to the Pauanui Club. Photo / Facebook
Lance Easton worked out of his own clinic in a building next to the Pauanui Club. Photo / Facebook

Easton denied he hugged his patient but told the tribunal during cross-examination that the woman was “someone that could do with a few hugs”.

The tribunal also found Easton failed to properly gain the patient’s consent after she alleged she wasn’t told what the treatment would entail. Easton rejected the allegation.

The same patient returned to the clinic for a second appointment. She arrived to find Easton treating another patient on the grass outside the clinic, wearing shorts, a T-shirt and no shoes.

The patient agreed to have her treatment outside too, but soon became embarrassed as Easton again lay over her to apply pressure.

She claimed Easton started “talking about weed”, telling the story of the first time he came across it. She also claimed he used the word “c**t” three or four times during the treatment.

In the midst of a firm massage, the patient heard an audible pop from her ribs, followed by excruciating pain. She asked to go inside the clinic.

Once inside, Easton left the room while the patient stripped down to only her bra and underwear. Easton then returned, took his shirt off and commented it was a hot day. Easton “rattled around in his sports bag” and produced a crumpled towel to put under the patient’s ribs.

The woman told the tribunal she felt vulnerable and uncomfortable as Easton “climbed up and straddled the plinth” behind her. She claimed he moved forward between her legs, positioning them over his thighs either side of him.

“This is enough. I have had enough. I can’t do this,” the woman said. She dressed herself in front of him.

Still shirtless, Easton then asked if he could tape her rib and she agreed. He lifted her top and undid her bra, which the patient never consented to. She then paid and left, later complaining to the Physiotherapy Board.

All of the patient’s allegations were found proven, except her claim that Easton straddled her on the plinth, with the tribunal ruling it was possible the patient was mistaken.

Easton undertook treatments while suspended

The Physiotherapy Board suspended Easton’s practising certificate while it investigated the woman’s complaints. But the professional conduct committee (PCC) alleged he continued to work, leading to a further charge in the tribunal.

Easton was accused of providing services to five patients after his suspension, including massages and teaching stretches and exercises. He said these were not physiotherapy services.

He had made a public post on his company’s Facebook page saying he couldn’t perform physiotherapy treatment, asking patients to “see me as something else”.

Ultimately the tribunal found the charge established, but said Easton did not “wilfully flout the law”, declining to make a finding of malpractice.

The PCC further alleged Easton did not adequately maintain clinical records in the three years prior to the female patient’s complaint, and in the months after his suspension.

Easton said his clinic flooded twice, and notes were destroyed. The tribunal said more efforts should have been made to digitise records after the first flood, but dismissed the charge.

When it came to the records after his suspension, they were initially moved to a building and then to Easton’s car for “a long time”. Some were lost.

The charge was proven, but no finding of professional misconduct was made as Easton was under the impression he was not a practising physiotherapist at the time, thereby exempt from the rules.

He also faced a charge of performing cervical manipulation during appointments, a restricted activity that requires specific training, with four patients between 2018 and 2019. He accepted the charge, which alleged he hadn’t completed the training nor obtained written informed consent. The tribunal found it amounted to professional misconduct.

He was also accused of providing acupuncture treatment when he was not sufficiently skilled, which he admitted. That too amounted to professional misconduct, and put the safety of his patients at risk.

Finally, he faced a charge of failing to comply with the general standards of a physiotherapist, relating to acupuncture health and safety, risk management plan, and a system for recording adverse events. Easton accepted this charge and agreed it amounted to professional misconduct.

Easton fined, censured, ordered to pay costs

In all, the PCC sought a suspension of six months, coupled with a censure, a fine and costs order, and conditions on returning to practice. Easton’s lawyer, Duncan McGill, submitted just a censure and conditions would be sufficient.

Due to his suspension he had to sell his family home, unable to meet his mortgage repayments. He has since undertaken a complete review of standards and ethical obligations, his lawyer said. He reminded the tribunal there was no suggestion of sexual impropriety.

“Although there is a range of conduct covered by the charge, none of the matters individually is at the most serious end of the scale,” tribunal chairman Theo Baker wrote in her decision. She said Easton was passionate about his work and engaged in the tribunal process, but was not reassured Easton had “a significant degree of insight into his conduct”.

The tribunal ordered that until December 2025 Easton cannot work as a sole practitioner, must only practise in an audited and accredited practice, and must work under an approved supervisor. He was censured, fined $500 and ordered to pay $44,765 in costs.

Ethan Griffiths covers crime and justice stories nationwide for Open Justice. He joined NZME in 2020, previously working as a regional reporter in Whanganui and South Taranaki.

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