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Doctor reported for forging prescriptions

Avant media

Tuesday, 18 August 2020

doctor forging prescriptions

A physician who experienced health issues and anxiety, has pleaded guilty to forging prescriptions under patients’ names and collecting medication for her own use.

Increasing pressure on doctors due to the COVID-19 crisis has placed even greater importance on doctors’ health and wellbeing. This case reinforces that doctors should have their own GP and seek professional help early if any health or impairment issues arise. The fact that a doctor has sought help for a health issue does not mean they will be reported under the mandatory notification laws. In light of concerns the laws imposed a barrier for doctors seeking treatment for health issues, they were changed to increase the reporting threshold for treating practitioners, to encourage doctors to seek help when they need it, without fear of being reported to Ahpra.

Troubled by personal life

In this case, while the physician showed a great deal of remorse and insight, she attributed her lapse in judgment to experiencing ongoing health difficulties and going through a challenging time in both her personal and professional life.

Employed as a specialist in a public hospital and in private practice, she reported having difficulties balancing the demands of multiple workplaces and experienced anxiety. She was also physically exhausted and felt overwhelmed.

The physician said it got to the point where she was having difficulty getting out of bed and had trouble functioning throughout the day. She eventually turned to self-medication with stimulant drugs.

Reported by suspicious pharmacist

The doctor forged four prescriptions for dexamphetamine and Vyvanse in the name of two child patients.

The prescriptions and repeats were used on a number of occasions by the physician over a seven-month period until the pharmacist dispensing the medications became suspicious. The pharmacist contacted the parents of one of the child patients named on the prescription, and then called the police.

The physician was arrested by police at the pharmacy during an attempt to collect the medication.

Formal reprimand

A court found the physician guilty of forgery and knowingly forging a document. She was placed on a two-year good behaviour bond, with no criminal conviction recorded.

As a result, she notified the hospital of the charges and was stood down. She immediately ceased employment at the private practice, stopped practising and gave up her registration as a medical practitioner.

The matter was referred to Ahpra, and after an investigation and hearing, a tribunal found the physician’s conduct represented a substantial departure from the standard expected of a doctor of her level of training and experience.

The tribunal noted she had since sought treatment for the health issues that contributed to her conduct. The tribunal took into consideration she demonstrated insight and remorse by cooperating with the investigation and made early and honest admissions.

The physician was formally reprimanded for professional misconduct, which is a public denunciation of the conduct and recorded on the public register of practitioners. The tribunal found a period of preclusion from practice was not necessary as she had not practised for almost two years and committed to further treatment to address her health issues and external stressors that contributed to her conduct.

If she wanted to reinstate her practising registration in the future, she would need to comply with the Medical Board of Australia’s requirements in terms of recency of practice and demonstrate she is a fit and proper person to hold registration. She would also have to comply with any health assessment, monitoring and treatment the Board requires as a condition of her re-registration.

Seeking professional help

While support for mental and other health issues can be uniquely difficult for doctors, delays in seeking help can be due to perceptions of lack of confidentiality, embarrassment and fears about career implications. These barriers often lead doctors down a path of self-treatment and self-medication.

Under the mandatory notification laws, health issues rarely need reporting. For a treating-doctor to report another practitioner for impairment, their level of concern must be very high and the patient’s impairment must place the public at a substantial risk of harm. For more information, download our factsheet.

This case reinforces the importance for doctors to look after their own health and wellbeing, and to seek independent professional help to address impairment issues early. The Medical Board of Australia’s Good Medical Practice: A Code of Conduct for Doctors in Australia says good medical practice involves “having a GP” that is not you, and “seeking independent objective advice when you need medical care.”

Our Doctors’ Health and wellbeing website provides a wealth of health and wellbeing information, support and advice. Doctors' Health Advisory Services are independent of the Medical Board and provide personal advice to doctors facing difficulties, personal crisis and stress.

Key lessons

  • If you are experiencing a health issue, ensure you seek independent professional help to identify subtle signs and address issues early.
  • Good medical practice means having your own GP.
  • If you notice a colleague is struggling, encourage them to seek professional help.

Useful resources

Avant’s Personal Support Program also provides confidential counselling to members who are experiencing health issues on: 1300 360 364.

Listen to our podcasts where Michael Myers, a professor of clinical psychiatry from the SUNY Downstate Medical Center in New York, provides advice on how to look after yourself through your career.

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