A snapshot of registered health practitioner misconduct in Victoria for February 2022

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By Stuart Eustice, Partner and Holly White, Lawyer

Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia v Harrison [2022] VCAT 177:

A nurse working in an emergency department was reprimanded, suspended for three months and had conditions imposed on her registration after misappropriating morphine for her own use on six occasions from her workplace in August – September 2019. The Tribunal imposed conditions for psychological treatment and urine and hair drug testing. Upon her first five weeks of return to practice, the nurse will be limited to working a maximum of 25 hours per week, and not between 10pm and 6.30am. When the missing morphine was discovered, the nurse admitted her conduct, explaining she had been suffering from depression causing her to become dependent on the drug. She resigned and provided an undertaking not to practice in October 2019. The nurse made early and complete admissions to the Board and agreed to the orders sought by it which were made by the Tribunal.

Medical Board of Australia v Taheri [2022] VCAT 158:

A doctor was reprimanded and had his registration cancelled with a 12-month disqualification period after he engaged in inappropriate sexual and physical contact and verbal communication with a nurse who was arranging the emergency transfer of a patient and pleading guilty to a charge of sexual assault. The Board took immediate action and the doctor was suspended from practice for 4.5 years prior to the Tribunal’s decision. The doctor pleaded guilty and was fined $2,500 without conviction. The Tribunal noted:

“In what appears to be a common misunderstanding in sentencing offenders who are also health practitioners, the Magistrate considered that imposing a conviction would rule out a return to practice, but a finding of guilt without conviction would enable Dr Taheri to return to practice. There is in fact no rule or practice to that effect and a finding of guilt of itself, particularly for a sexual assault, will often have registration consequences.”

The Tribunal considered cancellation appropriate rather than suspension because the doctor did not provide any evidence regarding his insight or steps taken to ensure the conduct was not repeated.

Medical Board of Australia v Benedicto [2022] VCAT 117

A doctor was reprimanded for her failure to provide clinically appropriate obstetric care or keep proper clinical records in respect of eight deliveries (four stillborn) between 2008 and 2015 while working as a junior doctor at Bacchus Marsh Hospital. The Board sought a three-month suspension. Evidence was provided that from 2015 onwards the doctor had taken steps to ensure her skills were up to date, her practices safe and competent. The Tribunal considered whether a suspension was appropriate for general deterrence however it reluctantly did not apply this because of evidence given that any suspension had the potential to endanger the safety and continuity of care of current maternity patients at the hospital, largely due to the doctor being the only full-time resident.

The Tribunal noted the doctor was under ‘critically inadequate’ supervision, however reminded registered practitioners of their personal responsibility to ensure their own practice is safe and consistent with professional standards. The doctor was one of 43 registered practitioners investigated by Ahpra following a cluster of newborn and stillborn deaths at the hospital, including the Former Director of Obstetrics and Gynaecology who has not worked since 2015 and in November 2021 was disqualified from re-applying for registration for 12 years (effectively a permanent disqualification due to the doctor’s age).[1]

[1] Medical Board of Australia v Parhar [2021] VCAT 1295.

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