Doctor admits forging prescriptions

By Jared Savage

A young doctor working in a busy emergency department has admitted forging prescriptions for weight-loss pills to keep her awake while working long hours.

The doctor appeared in the Auckland District Court last week and pleaded guilty to two fraud charges laid after she faked prescriptions for the drugs over an 18-month period.

The police withdrew three other charges.

An an earlier hearing, the court had heard that the doctor forged the prescriptions to obtain sibutramine hydrochloride, also known as Reductil, because fellow doctors told her they were using the substance to help stay awake.

Her defence lawyer said the doctor was not a drug addict and the offending happened at a time of great stress before an upcoming rotation working long hours in a hospital emergency room.

"She was afraid of killing someone by missing something," her defence lawyer told the court at the previous appearance.

The New Zealand Resident Doctors' Association issued a warning to members soon after the Weekend Herald first reported the story in September.

The email said writing prescriptions under someone else's name for yourself or forging another doctor's signature was fraud and expressly prohibited.

The RDA said it was aware that resident doctors worked long hours and this could "wreak havoc on your sleep patterns".

"If you are using medication to stay awake, this is extremely unsafe and the RDA advises against it.

"The risk to your patients, your medical career and your reputation is far too great," the email says.

Struggling doctors were told to contact the union if the working roster was a problem.

"The medico-legal consequences of using medication and drugs inappropriately in the medical profession can be devastating, for both you and your patients," the email said.

The doctor will be sentenced this month.

An application for the doctor to be discharged without conviction because of the damage it would do to her promising career was rejected by Judge David Wilson, QC.

If a doctor is convicted of a crime punishable by a jail term of more than three months, the court must notify the Medical Council. The professional conduct committee of the council then determines what action, if any, is taken.

The doctor feared that if convicted she would lose the job she had been offered and the "black mark" of a Medical Council inquiry would count against her in future job applications.

Judge Wilson rejected that submission and said: "I do not see the injustice in that."

He said the alleged offending was not trivial, but premeditated and repetitive, and "hit at the heart of the responsibilities of a doctor".

He then refused the application for the doctor to be discharged without conviction.

However, interim name suppression has continued.

Spokesman George Symmes said the Medical Council took a serious view of fraud.

Doctors were in a position of trust and other health professionals had to be able to rely on the integrity of a doctor.

However, Mr Symmes emphasised the council process was rehabilitative, not punitive.

"We want to help doctors get back to work."

- NZ Herald

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