A Wairarapa health practitioner has been suspended for stealing prescription anaesthesia drugs from his workplace and giving them to his partner to use on herself unsupervised.
The Masterton man was yesterday slammed by the New Zealand Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal for placing his partner under "significant risk, even to the extent that the outcome could have been fatal for her".
The man, whose name and specific occupation are suppressed, was working for the Wairarapa District Health Board when he stole the drug Propofol over a four-month period. His partner also worked for the DHB but was on leave at the time.
This is a drug which needs proper and careful administration and which can, if not properly controlled in the right environment, have significantly disastrous consequences.
He stole about $4669 worth of the drug between April and September 2015.
He would put a cannula in his partner's arm and allow her to administer the drug, sometimes unsupervised, and would also use the drug himself at times.
Propofol is a sedative and a short-acting medication that results in a decreased level of consciousness and lack of memory.
It is used during general anaesthesia and sedation.
Counsel for the Professional Conduct Committee, Theo Baker, said the drug's effects took about two minutes to happen and typically lasted 5-10 minutes.
"Common side effects include irregular heartbeat, low blood pressure, burning sensation at the site of injection, [and] stopping of breathing," she said.
"Other serious side effects may include seizures, infections with improper use, addiction, and Propofol Infusion Syndrome, a potentially lethal side effect, with long-term use."
During the hearing, the man agreed the drug was not safe to use at home without proper monitoring equipment. It is a prescription drug and is kept in a restricted area of the hospital where he worked, which employees could only enter with a swipe card.
His employers realised there was an "exponential increase" in the use of the drug, and started an audit. They discovered that each time the drug was missing, the man had entered the restricted area.
On September 9, 2015, the man and his partner entered the hospital and the man stole the drugs while his partner tried to distract a nurse. The nurse was suspicious and repositioned herself so she could see the man entering the restricted area.
He returned later in the day and stole more drugs, but was arrested.
The police went to his home and found his partner with a cannula in her arm administering the drug unsupervised.
They also found numerous empty vials in the house.
The man was convicted for theft, and has not worked as a health practitioner since he was caught.
He had since been working a minimum wage job and using his KiwiSaver to pay rent.
The Professional Conduct Committee laid a disciplinary charge against the man, which he accepted.
Tribunal chair David Carden said the offending reflected "significantly adversely" on the man's fitness to practice.
"This is a drug which needs proper and careful administration and which can, if not properly controlled in the right environment, have significantly disastrous consequences."
He said the man would have his partner administer the drug to herself "on the basis that if she lost consciousness, she couldn't continue administering it and therefore not cause serious harm."
The only monitoring was my finger, I would feel her pulse. I feel so ashamed about it.
He said the facts raised questions of competence if the man was leaving his partner alone with a cannula in her arm, "self-medicating to the point of loss of consciousness".
Giving evidence in the hearing, the man said he deeply regretted his actions.
"This has had a profound and everlasting effect on me and obviously on my ability to practice."
He said he was under considerable stress at the time of the offending but had since turned his life around and was no longer smoking or using drugs of any kind.
"I just can say that I turned my life around and I never, ever will do this again."
Leaving his partner alone with the drug was "just unacceptable".
"I don't know how to explain it. If I would hear from someone, a friend or a colleague that he does that to his friend or his girlfriend or whoever it is, I would say 'this is not acceptable, you can't do that, this is just too risky - for her, for you, for the whole public, the DHB'."
He said he could not quantify the risk involved in leaving her to self-medicate, but said there was a "definite fatal risk".
"She can stop breathing, her blood pressure can drop to nothing, consequences could be heart attack or a stroke, even death."
He did not think about those possibilities at the time, he said.
"The only monitoring was my finger, I would feel her pulse. I feel so ashamed about it."
The Tribunal made a "tentative" decision to suspend the man from practice for nine months, which took into account the 19 months he had already been not practising.
They also ordered he go through 12 months of supervision when he began practising again, as well as be subject to conditions and assessments. They censured him and ordered him to pay 30 per cent of costs.