Sandra is a senior crimes and justice reporter for the Bay of Plenty Times.

Bay doctor's drug fraud

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A Bay doctor who fraudulently obtained drugs over eight years has been censured and fined by the Health Practitioners' Disciplinary Tribunal.

Dr N appeared before the Tribunal in Tauranga yesterday to hear his fate after he admitted a charge laid by the Professional Conduct Committee of the Medical Council that he conducted himself in dishonest and/or unprofessional manner.

Dr N, who has interim name suppression, pleaded guilty to five offences.

That included, that he made 266 fraudulent entries into the controlled drug register, and 49 fraudulent entries into patient case notes in respect to the prescribing and/or administering controlled drugs.

The doctor also admitted forging the signatures of three colleagues in the drug register in order to obtain controlled drugs.

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Dr N would be fined $8000, and ordered to pay $18,000 as a 30 per cent contribution towards the $60,000 costs of the prosecution.

Anita Miller, who appeared for the Professional Conduct Committee, submitted the doctor's offending was sufficiently serious to warrant disciplinary sanction.

She sought a fine, a censure, supervision conditions and an order for costs.

Ms Miller said Dr N's offending had not only breached the trust placed in him by his patients, his colleagues and his professional body but had the "very real" potential to influence future decisions relating to ongoing care for the patients concerned.

The doctor's conduct brought discredit to the profession, she said.

Dr N told the tribunal he was extremely remorseful and "deeply ashamed" of his conduct, and given what he had gone through, it was "very unlikely" that he would re-offend.

The doctor who is now working at another practice under a voluntary supervision regime with oversight from the Medical Council urged the tribunal not suspend his practising certificate.

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Dr N's lawyer Harry Waalkens argued that imposing a fine would be significant penalty given what his client had already suffered.

"There cannot be a much higher fall from grace for Dr N and there has already been substantial effects for him, including personal and reputational damage, and losses in excess of $200,000."

Mr Waalkens said the disciplinary process had been the "worst salutary lesson" for Dr N.
A censure would also be a significant black mark against his client's name which he would remain on his record for some time, he said.

Tribunal chairperson David Carden commended Dr N and his wife for fronting up to the tribunal saying it had not been an easy process for them, particularly given the fact that the doctor's professional future had been at stake.

Mr Carden said the tribunal had decided it was necessary to censure the doctor.

Mr Carden said the Tribunal had seriously considered disqualifying him as it had serious concerns about the "total package and picture the facts his conduct portrayed".

The Tribunal had significant concerns about the accuracy of the doctor's responses to questions about his note taking, fabrications and various forgeries, he said.

However, Mr Carden said the Tribunal had decided not to remove him from the medical register or suspend him but it would impose a raft of clinical supervisory conditions for three years, with three-monthly compliance reports to the Medical Council Health Committee.

Dr N would also be banned from working in a sole practice environment.

The doctor was also required to disclose the prosecution to future employers or prospective practice partners, Mr Carden said.

Mr Carden said a request for permanent name suppression was declined but interim name suppression and any other identifying details would remain in place until the Tribunal's written decision was released.

Some other aspects of the case had also been suppressed for legal reasons

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