Rogue masseur harms industry’s reputation

HUGE DISAPPOINTMENT: Accredited massage therapists, like Luke O'Donnell, fear rogue operators are harming the industry. Picture: Marina Neil
HUGE DISAPPOINTMENT: Accredited massage therapists, like Luke O'Donnell, fear rogue operators are harming the industry. Picture: Marina Neil

THE case of a Mayfield masseur who took and shared explicit photos of his female clients has highlighted a gap in the regulation of unregistered health professionals, industry insiders say.

On Saturday the Newcastle Herald revealed that Josh Hewitt, a Mayfield male stripper and masseur, had been caught taking naked photos of his female clients and sharing them among a secret group of male strippers known as “the big fellas”.

The story has prompted the NSW Healthcare Complaints Commission to ask the Herald to provide information that would allow it to launch an investigation into Mr Hewitt’s practice.  

But it has also raised concerns about the potential damage to the industry’s reputation among practitioners.

While doctors and nurses are regulated by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency, so-called unregistered health practitioners like massage therapists are subject to what Rebecca Barnett from the Association of the Massage Therapists calls “negative licencing”. In NSW it means that while the HCCC can investigate complaints against individual practitioners, there is no over-arching regulator.

And while membership of a professional association like the AMT is necessary to access insurance coverage, the industry acknowledges it can be difficult for consumers to recognise legitimate practitioners.

“Association members are subject to all sorts of requirements, professional development requirements, their insurance, their senior first aid … so people have quite high compliance demands put on them when inside an association,” Ms Barnett said.

“But outside associations it’s the wild west, and when you look at the statistics it’s the rogue practitioners that are over represented in complaints.” 

For remedial massage therapists like Luke O’Donnell, cases like the one reported in the Herald serve to reinforce “negative connotations” about the industry.

Mr O’Donnell spent two years studying for a diploma in remedial massage from Hunter TAFE. Employed at NextGen Physio in Kotara, he’s a member of a professional association and spends between $500 and $1000 each year on development courses.

But he said rogue operators make it harder for massage therapists, already “low on the hierarchy of alternative healthcare” to “establish a good reputation”.

“I am a very confident therapist and I know the work I do for my clients is beneficial [so] when things like this happen it’s a huge disappointment,” he said.

“People like him deserved to be named and shamed to save the image of our profession.”