October 4, 2008

Reprimanded Doctor Disputes Punishment

A DOCTOR who was censured and fined for prescribing anti- depressants and other medication for his partner has appealed against his punishment, saying he was treated too harshly.

The doctor, whose name is suppressed along with the name of his former partner, had diagnosed her as depressed and prescribed her Aropax.

He also later prescribed her other drugs.

The Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal censured the doctor, fined him $7500 and ordered him to pay $3000 in costs.

The tribunal also ordered him to undertake education about professional boundaries and recommended a Medical Council review.

The doctor and his former partner had been together several years.

After the doctor and his partner separated she was diagnosed with a mood disorder, not depression.

The doctor also confessed he had not kept proper records.

In the High Court at Wellington yesterday, the doctor's lawyer, Chris Hodson, QC, said the penalty went too far and the tribunal did not take into account subjective material when considering that.

His client worked as a GP only half a day a week, and had significant scientific qualifications and experience in research.

The facts of the case were not in dispute but the tribunal had failed to consider the doctor's motives and intentions.

Mr Hodson said the doctor believed he was doing it in the woman's best interests and also thought she was seeing a GP. He also submitted the fine was excessive.

Theo Baker, the director of proceedings for the health and disability commissioner, said diagnosing and prescribing for a family member was serious and the doctor had been seriously misguided to act out of benevolence.

She said there was a blurring of the roles and a risk of abusing the privilege of being a practitioner.

Ms Baker said the doctor did not even know if Aropax was an appropriate medication and there had been no objective independent assessment of the woman's condition.

Justice Ron Young reserved his decision.

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