Doctor who prescribed controlled drugs to partner was justifiably sacked, says ERA

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Whangarei Hospital's Tumanako mental health unit where Dr Lynda Emmerson prescribed drugs for her partner who was not a patient there.Photo/File
Whangarei Hospital's Tumanako mental health unit where Dr Lynda Emmerson prescribed drugs for her partner who was not a patient there.Photo/File

A doctor who prescribed controlled drugs to her partner while she was working at Whangarei Hospital - including morphine - was justifiably sacked, an employment tribunal has ruled.

Dr Lynda Emmerson was sacked by Northland District Health Board (NDHB) in May 2015 for serious misconduct, after she prescribed controlled drugs from Whangarei Hospital's Tumanako mental health unit to her partner, who was not a patient in the unit.

Dr Emmerson took a personal grievance against the DHB to the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) claiming unjustified dismissal and unjustified disadvantage.

In a decision released this week ERA member Tania Tetitaha dismissed the claims, saying there was enough evidence for NDHB to find that Dr Emmerson had committed serious misconduct.

Ms Tetitaha found that there were some procedural breaches by NDHB during its internal disciplinary process, but these were minor and did not amount to unjustified disadvantage.

Dr Emmerson said she planned to appeal against the decision.

Between March 31, 2014 and March 1, 2015, Dr Emmerson was found to have prescribed a number of drugs to her partner - who has been named by the ERA only as BM - including tramadol-hydrochloride and dihydrocodeine tartrate, a semi-synthetic narcotic analgesic, with a potency between morphine and codeine used to treat chronic pain.

On April 20, 2015, Dr Emmerson went to the Tumanako unit's secure controlled drugs room with a nurse.

She entered information into the room's drug registers and the nurse countersigned it.

Dr Emmerson then left the room but re-entered and added further information to the register and removed a controlled drug script which she used to prescribe her partner 10 60mg morphine tablets and 20 20mg severodol tablets - both class B controlled drugs used for acute and chronic severe pain.

In a later disciplinary meeting NDHB alleged Dr Emmerson had breached its disciplinary policy and code of conduct and failed to meet her professional responsibility under Medical Council of NZ (MCNZ) standards.

The DHB said she had misappropriated hospital property - the script from the controlled drug unit, in circumstances she knew, or ought to have known, was not for administering drugs to non-patients who are relations.

In her defence Dr Emmerson said her prescribing fell within the MCNZ standard which allowed treatment in "an urgent situation" until another doctor is available.

Dr Emmerson also submitted that any failures were brought about by a lack of supervision. She also alleged there was a culture in the hospital of self-prescribing or prescribing to colleagues and family.

Ms Tetitaha rejected these claims.

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