A doctor jailed over the attempted murder of a pharmacist, who had notified Ahpra about his improper prescribing practices, has been slapped with an effective lifetime ban
A South Australian general practitioner “will never practise again” following a 25-year ban by the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, Ahpra reports.
This is the longest ban ever imposed on a registered practitioner by a tribunal on referral from a national board.
On 14 September, the tribunal found all allegations brought by the Medical Board of Australia against Dr Brian Geoffrey Holder constituted professional misconduct.
Dr Holder is currently serving a 15-year sentence of imprisonment for the attempted murder of a pharmacist who made a notification about his irregular and improper prescribing practices.
Given Dr Holder is currently 71 years old, the length of the ban means he will never again practise medicine or work in health services, said Ahpra.
The Tribunal stated that Dr Holder’s attempt to murder the notifier in 2017 constituted professional misconduct of a most serious kind.
A few months prior to the attack, the pharmacist had notified Ahpra about the GP’s prescribing practices, having noticed he had written scripts for several different individuals for high quantities of diazepam, oxazepam and Panadeine Forte.
Following the notification and an Ahpra investigation, the Medical Board of Australia decided to place conditions on Dr Holder’s registration relating to his ability to prescribe S4 medicines.
The Supreme Court of South Australia heard that on 10 October 2017, the GP had gone to the pharmacy where the pharmacist worked, lured her out from behind the counter with a bunch of flowers and then tried to stab her with a 15-centimetre fishing knife.
While the pharmacist survived the attack, she sustained three lacerations, bruising and swelling to her left arm and hand.
“The attack is ever present in my thoughts and is something I continue to deal with, both physically and mentally, on a daily basis,” the pharmacist said in a statement to the National Health Practitioner Ombudsman and Privacy Commissioner last year.
No remorse: Tribunal
Allegations before the tribunal included the attempted murder of the notifier; inappropriate prescribing of benzodiazepines and codeine-containing medications to five patients; provision of misleading information to Ahpra and the Board; and inappropriate prescribing to himself and his wife.
In relation to the prescribing offences, the tribunal noted: “We are most concerned that the respondent still has no insight as to the wrongfulness of his prescribing actions. He still maintains that his prescribing was appropriate. He has expressed no remorse or contrition.
“Even these proceedings have not brought home to him the seriousness of his defaults. There is no reason to think that he would change his ways if ever allowed to practise in the future.
“This respondent could never again be trusted with the responsibilities of a registered medical practitioner. The public, and other health practitioners should never again be put at serious risk from the respondent.
“It is appropriate to set a disqualification which makes it clear to everyone that his career as a medical practitioner is over.”
The tribunal emphasised the seriousness of the conduct in this matter, commenting that “there are some cases that are so serious that the sanctions must be career-ending”.
The outcome was supported by Ahpra and the Medical Board.
Board Chair Dr Anne Tonkin, said: “Such behaviour is completely incompatible with being a registered medical practitioner. We are pleased the tribunal has imposed this significant ban.”
“A lifetime ban from treating the public underlines the seriousness of the matters considered by the Tribunal and will keep the public safe,” added Ahpra CEO Martin Fletcher.
Notifier safety strengthened
Following the attack, the pharmacist called for changes to Ahpra’s process and policies “so that future notifiers are safe and feel supported in their difficult decision to lodge a notification”.
Court documents revealed the pharmacist authorised release of her name after being told by Ahpra that if she was prepared to do so, the referral would be expedited and “carry more weight”.
“I had no knowledge of Ahpra’s approach to privacy or the option of making a confidential or anonymous notification,” she said.
Her full name and the address of the pharmacy where she worked had both been included in materials provided to Dr Holder following her notification, she stated.
Ahpra subsequently asked the Ombudsman to conduct an independent review of its management of confidential and anonymous notifications.
Ten recommendations were made to strengthen the protection of notifiers from risks of harm, which Ahpra accepted in full.
In May this year, Ahpra issued a statement saying that all improvements recommended in the review have now been implemented or are underway.
- updating relevant policies to reflect that possible confidentiality safeguards for the notifier will be considered when assessing each new notification;
- providing new guidance to staff about how to safeguard confidentiality, including in relation to redacting a notifier’s information and sharing a notifier’s information with the relevant practitioner.
“We want reporting to be safe for all notifiers, which is why we asked the Ombudsman to review our processes to ensure that anyone who raises a concern about a registered health practitioner with us, feels safe to do so,” said Mr Fletcher.