A married Burton physiotherapist has been suspended from practising for six months over a series of sexually explicit emails he sent to a ‘humiliated’ female patient.
Neil Sullivan, clinical director at Burton Physiotherapy and Spinal Centre, even pretended he had a twin brother who would ‘like her to eat him alive’.
Mr Sullivan worked as head physiotherapist for Peterborough United Football Club, Oxford United Football Club and, for eight years, at Derby County Football Club, before taking on his Burton practice and has more than 20 years in his field.
The revelations were made at a Health and Care Professions Tribunal Service (HCPTS) hearing after the patient reported Mr Sullivan’s lewd messages.
The panel concluded he sent messages that ‘were wholly inappropriate and full of sexual innuendo as well as explicit sexual suggestions’.
In one email, Mr Sullivan (pictured) told the patient he liked to ‘use his hands mostly’ so he could ‘watch the expressions on the face as the pleasure flows’. In another message, he wrote ‘I’ll be the perfect professional, as always – unless you tell me not to be’, before signing off at 10.51pm
In one email, Mr Sullivan told the patient he liked to ‘use his hands mostly’ so he could ‘watch the expressions on the face as the pleasure flows’.
She responded it was her idea of ‘heaven’ and there was something ‘erotic about eye contact’.
Mr Sullivan then told her ‘to have a little lay down’.
In another message, he wrote at 10pm one night: ‘I’ll be the perfect professional, as always – unless you tell me not to be’, before signing off for the night at 10.51pm.
At one point, Mr Sullivan also pretended he had a twin brother, emailing his patient: ‘He’s like me… very useful with his hands. Likes to make cheeks glow and eyes roll… and really appreciates a giving kind of girl.’
Later the same afternoon, he added, ‘He’d definitely like you to eat him alive.’
Mr Sullivan later admitted he did not have a twin brother and was actually referring to himself.
In one email exchange, he wrote it was ‘a struggle to concentrate on the job at hand’ and, in response to further flirtatious emails from the patient, said his twin was ‘very adventurous’, telling the woman she was becoming his ‘favourite patient’.
Mr Sullivan went on to say he needed a ‘sub-zero shower’ and wrote ‘my twin is rubbing his hands together now’.
The patient met Mr Sullivan after she was referred to his practice by her insurers for physiotherapy as a result of injuries from a road traffic accident in 2019.
She attended around eight appointments between May and July 2019, which were insurer funded.
At the end of the allocated sessions, they both sought approval from her insurer to fund further sessions.
It was during this period they started to exchange messages, the panel heard.
They first spoke via Facebook Messenger and then in August moved to email communication.
But the patient ended communication when she found out he was married.
Mr Sullivan then offered free services – allegedly as an inducement to prevent her from making a formal complaint.
The revelations were made at a Health and Care Professions Tribunal Service (HCPTS) hearing after the patient reported Mr Sullivan’s lewd messages to the Health and Care Professions Council (pictured) in November 2019
However, she reported the matter to the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) in November 2019.
Through his representative, Mr Sullivan told the HCPTS hearing he had provided a full apology to the patient and accepted his conduct was unacceptable and amounted to misconduct.
The panel was also invited to consider his email telling the patient he was not single.
Mr Sullivan’s representative told the panel the patient was the one who had initiated the pair’s contact.
The panel was also told Mr Sullivan had done considerable CPD (Continuing Professional Development) to avoid a repetition.
He was described as ‘a man working at the top of his field with testimonials as to his integrity, kindness, decency and ability’.
The panel was also told this was an isolated incident in an otherwise ‘unblemished career.
It heard the contact was ‘consensual’ and ‘he was not predatory.’
Before taking on his Burton practice, Mr Sullivan worked as head physiotherapist for Peterborough United Football Club, Oxford United Football Club and, for eight years, Derby County Football Club (pictured). He has more than 20 years in his field
The panel concluded that between June and July 2019, Mr Sullivan ‘engaged in inappropriate communication’ with the patient through Facebook which was ‘flirtatious, highly inappropriate and unprofessional’.
Over 13 days in August 2019, it found Mr Sullivan engaged in inappropriate communication with the patient via email, stating ‘these exchanges were inappropriate and overtly sexual in nature’.
It rejected Mr Sullivan’s evidence that his communication was an innocent fantasy and concluded his behaviour ‘fell seriously below’ the standards expected of a registered physiotherapist.
The panel said Mr Sullivan had ‘minimised his actions’ and there was a failure to ‘fully acknowledge his motivation and responsibility within it’.
The panel’s report adds that he is only now beginning to confront what he did.
The panel further notes that it was not until 2021 that he told his wife of this incident.
Mr Sullivan was now been stripped of his right to practise for six months after the panel concluded: ‘(He) breached important boundaries, becoming overly close to [the patient] in sessions and then engaging in wholly inappropriate sexually explicit messages for sexual gratification.
‘Although [the patient] was a willing participant, she ultimately felt humiliated, misled and undermined by the experience.’