A routine eye test left a teenager feeling violated. Three years later, she’s devastated

Cate was 17 years old when her eyesight started to deteriorate, so she booked an eye test at the closest OPSM store.

At the appointment, optometrist David Tidman allegedly touched her thigh and said she “had a great body”, according to her witness statement.

Over the next 20 minutes, Tidman would continue to make her feel uncomfortable, speaking closely in her ear, causing her to fiddle with her keys.

Cate says AHPRA needs an overhaul.Credit:Ross Swanborough

Cate, whose surname has been withheld for privacy reasons, twice complained to OPSM. The following year, she returned to the store for a check-up – and was shocked to find herself being examined by Tidman again.

Shortly after that, OPSM said it had investigated and that Tidman was no longer employed at the company. Tidman did not respond to requests for comment.

The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA), meanwhile, took 20 months to complete its investigation – and declined to suspend Tidman’s registration.

Records show AHPRA’s investigation was plagued by delays, poor record-keeping and a lack of transparency.

A spokesman for AHPRA said they could not comment on individual cases, but that suspending a practitioner was only available for the “most serious concerns to members of the public”.

The Age and Sydney Morning Herald have revealed chronic failings within the national watchdog this month, including under-resourcing, bullying, systemic racism and “loopholes” that prevent the public from knowing about valid complaints made against health practitioners.

It has led to renewed calls for an overhaul of AHPRA. “What needs to happen now? There needs to be an agreement that the system is just not working,” said Dr Mukesh Haikerwal, former AMA president and GP. “It needs a complete review of what’s gone on.”

AHPRA declined to report the matter to police and has refused to provide Cate with the findings of its investigation into Tidman, but instead directed her to his online profile which lists temporary conditions on his practice, including training and mentoring about “maintaining professional boundaries”.

Cate, who has spent hours on the phone pursuing AHPRA for updates, feels betrayed by the outcome and has lost faith in the regulator’s ability to protect the public.

“These were serious allegations. Quite naively, I thought the right thing would happen. I trusted it was a government agency, they must be doing the right thing,” says Cate, who is now 20 years old. “Clearly that’s not the case.”

Tidman continues to work in clinics around Perth. When contacted for comment, a receptionist said Tidman was “quirky” and made “inappropriate” comments about women’s bodies. “I don’t think he has a filter. I don’t think he realises that what he can say can be quite out of line, rude, hurtful,” the receptionist said. Tidman’s boss said he was not aware of the AHPRA investigation or conditions imposed on his registration.

When Cate arrived for the first appointment at the Mirrabooka Shopping Centre in Perth’s northern suburbs at 4pm on January 13, 2020, she was wearing denim shorts.

According to her witness statement later filed with AHPRA, Tidman allegedly told Cate that “fat girls” wore similar shorts but she “didn’t have to worry” because she “had a great body”.

“He touched my thigh when he said that, on top of my thigh midway between my hip and my knee,” according to the statement.

After the appointment, Cate told her mother Dana and friends about what happened. Dana’s statement, also lodged with AHPRA, corroborated Cate’s account.

“I was alarmed and horrified by what she was telling me,” Dana, whose surname has also been withheld, said. She encouraged her daughter to make a complaint and suggested they approach the police, which Cate declined.

Using OPSM’s website, Cate lodged two complaints but received no response.

Cate with her mother Dana at home in Perth.Credit:Ross Swanborough

The following year, Cate received an automated email from OPSM for a check-up. When she arrived for the appointment, she was ushered in to see Tidman again.

This time, Cate alleges Tidman launched more quickly into making sexual comments, speaking about the size of his step-daughters’ breasts.

“He explained how he tells her to unbutton her top to show her breasts when she’s working with men, so that she’ll never have an unhappy customer,” according to Cate’s statement.

“Mr Tidman then told me that his other step-daughter wasn’t so ‘well endowed with her breasts’ and because of this, she didn’t have the same advantage as the other step-daughter.”

At this point, Cate alleges Tidman stroked her hair and ear and “told me that I would be okay though because I’ve got that advantage”.

“I kind of pulled back at that point. I had the big machine in my face at the time while my eyes were being tested … I just really wanted to get out of there and get it over and done with.”

Cate tried to change the subject, but the optometrist then allegedly told a story about a woman he met in France “who was wearing a bikini and had big boobs” and he “wanted to rub tanning lotion on her body”.

Cate emailed OPSM directly to report what happened. “I felt violated,” she wrote in an email dated February 11, 2021.

A representative from Luxottica, OPSM’s parent company, quickly responded to say the matter was being taken “very seriously”. Cate was offered free counselling services.

Less than two weeks later, Luxottica informed Cate that its investigation into Tidman was complete and he was no longer employed by the company. The company then sought Cate’s consent to share her medical records to report Tidman to AHPRA.

Cate was pleased that Tidman had been stood down from OPSM but concerned that he could get a job elsewhere. Over the next 20 months, Cate estimates she called AHPRA about a dozen times for information on the investigation and said it was common to wait more than an hour on hold.

When connected, Cate says AHPRA struggled to locate her file and was told on multiple occasions her case had “slipped through the cracks”. AHPRA staff verbally apologised and made assurances it was now being properly investigated, according to Cate.

AHPRA is legally obliged to provide updates to notifiers every three months. However, Cate was told that she was not listed as the “notifier” because Luxottica had reported Tidman. She says repeated requests to become the notifier were unsuccessful.

During one phone call with AHPRA, Cate says an investigator recommended that she contact police. Cate was informed there were a variety of options to discipline Tidman – including suspension or deregistration.

Finally, Cate was contacted last week by AHPRA and was told they had “got the outcome they were hoping for”.

Cate was directed to Tidman’s online profile where a short notice listed the “imposed conditions” on his practice, including requirements to complete six, hour-long training sessions with a mentor of his choice who is approved by the Optometry Board of Australia.

Cate said she had been able to “keep it together” during the investigation because she felt certain the allegations would be taken seriously but when she read the outcome, she broke down into tears. She is speaking out to warn others and call for reform within AHPRA.

“He got off with a slap on the wrist,” she says. “It reinforces that boys will be boys attitude.”

AHPRA said its role is to protect the public, not penalise past misconduct, and the regulator will consider a range of factors when determining whether to suspend a practitioner.

“If, based on this evidence, any offending does not meet a threshold of professional misconduct, a suspension or cancellation of registration will not be considered an appropriate measure to protect the public,” the spokesman said.

The spokesman acknowledged COVID-19 had caused delays in processing complaints and was working to improve that.

OPSM and Luxottica declined to comment.

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