Doctor struck off over $300,000 'loan'

By Errol Kiong

An Auckland GP who accepted more than $300,000 from his elderly clients in return for "free" medical treatments has been found guilty of professional misconduct and struck off the register.

Donald Ian McDonald, 62, has also been censured and fined $15,000 by the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal.

He also has to pay 30 per cent of costs incurred by the inquiry into his conduct, and could face further limits on any attempts to return to practice.

A two-day tribunal hearing in Auckland heard how McDonald breached his position of trust as a GP when he accepted $260,000 from a couple, who have name suppression, between January 1998 and November 2004.

He and a woman also accepted a further $60,000 from the couple.

The tribunal also found McDonald, who was the couple's GP from 1999 to August 2005, had failed to manage their medical care to an expected standard.

The husband died of a stroke in December, aged 83. His wife, 84, has dementia and is now in a nursing home. They have no children.

Their niece said the ruling was what her uncle and aunt would have wanted.

Family and friends testified yesterday of witnessing the wife's health getting steadily worse while under McDonald's care, while the husband became increasingly distressed at being unable to care for his wife.

Her mental state had become more fragile in August 2005, and she was smoking and drinking heavily, but not eating.

A neighbour who had lived opposite the couple for 40 years and had helped take care of the wife during this time, testified that she was "disturbed by the general lack of concern, support and treatment" from McDonald.

Dr Simon Hammond, a GP who became involved at the instigation of a grand-niece and the husband, said the wife was in "health freefall" when he began to see her.

McDonald did not attend the hearing and elected not to be represented by a lawyer.

In his affidavit, he said he could not be represented by counsel because of costs, having been left financially destitute following the breakdown of his marriage in 2005.

He admitted accepting the payments from the couple, but said there was a verbal agreement that it would be regarded as a loan that would be repaid by the provision of medical services at his normal rate.

He maintained that he provided a good level of care to the couple, and in his 37 years as a general practitioner had never had a complaint regarding his treatment.

Prosecutor Kristy McDonald, QC, in her submissions on penalty, said the doctor had access to legal aid if he could not afford a lawyer.

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