‘I’ll come and get you.’

A pharmacist’s registration has been cancelled after he bashed a former patient who came to his pharmacy, and punched a man and a woman outside a hotel

At a NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal hearing, details of the pharmacist’s convictions were heard – including his conviction in May 2017 on two charges of common assault which were committed in July 2014.

At this time, the pharmacist and a friend, as well as two people identified only as Person A and Person B – who had all been drinking – were involved in an “altercation” in a hotel. Security asked everyone involved to leave.

Outside the hotel, Persons A and B were talking to friends when the pharmacist punched Person A, who fell to the ground.

He then “proceeded to kick Person A in the head and upper body,” the Tribunal noted.

When Person B intervened, the pharmacist punched her in the face.

“She fell to the ground and was motionless for a short period,” the Tribunal noted.

The pharmacist pleaded guilty to two charges of common assault, and was entered into a two-year good behaviour bond, though the Court declined to dismiss the charges summarily on the grounds that the pharmacist was suffering from a mental illness at the time of the assaults. He did not notify health regulators.

The pharmacist had undertaken an anger management course after being charged with these offences, and saw a psychiatrist for treatment of anxiety and depression.

The Tribunal also heard about his conviction for one count of “assault occasioning actual bodily harm” and one count of “stalk or intimidate intending to cause fear of physical or mental harm”. These offences took place in September 2016.

In this case, the pharmacist was alone in his pharmacy at about 7pm hours after the store had closed, doing paperwork when Person C, who had been a patient receiving treatment there for opioid dependency, knocked on the door of the pharmacy, returning twice.

Person C alleged that the pharmacist left the pharmacy and approached him, saying, “Come on let’s do this, I’m going to sort you out”.

Person C attempted to run, but fell, and the pharmacist jumped on him and punched him in the head and face, he said.

The pharmacist then “hyper-extended” Person C’s arm, the patient said, and began to punch him in the head and face, allegedly saying “You tell anyone. I’ll come f**k you up. This is what MMA [Mixed Martial Arts] does to you”.

The pharmacist then went back to the pharmacy and called police, telling them he heard someone tapping on the window asking for help, and that upon leaving the premises he found a man who he thought was having an overdose – and that when he went to help the man attacked him.

While the Magistrate in this case rejected Person C’s claim that he had only called out for help, and had instead called out to the pharmacist in “what appears to be an aggressive manner,” they broadly accepted Person C’s account of being assaulted by the pharmacist.

This Magistrate also found that the pharmacist had assaulted Person C and told him, “You f***ing tell anyone, I’ll come and get you”. The Magistrate rejected the pharmacist’s claim to have acted in self-defence.

The former patient suffered a suspected eye socket fracture, a knocked tooth and upper arm soft tissue damage.

In May 2017 the pharmacist was convicted of the offences of “intimidate intending to cause fear of physical or mental harm” and “assault occasioning actual bodily harm” and sentenced to 140 hours of community service and to enter into a 24-month good behaviour bond. The first good behaviour bond was revoked and the pharmacist convicted of the first offences.

Again, the pharmacist did not notify health authorities.

In July 2018, the Pharmacy Council imposed several conditions on the pharmacist’s registration – including that he “not have face-to-face contact with potential, current or former clients of any pharmacy in which he held a financial interest and not to practise as a pharmacist without supervision”.

While the pharmacist has not practised as a pharmacist since those conditions were imposed, he continues to own and operate two Newcastle pharmacies.

Both of these pharmacies operate solely to provide methadone and buprenorphine to patients enrolled on the NSW Opioid Treatment Program.

At the hearing, the pharmacist contended that he did not have to notify regulators about the first offences as the Local Court had not recorded a conviction, and that he was thus not the subject of a “finding of guilt … punishable by imprisonment”.

However the Commission disagreed, and the Tribunal found that the pharmacist had been required to inform them about his having been found guilty of the offences.

The pharmacist said his failure to notify regulators about his conviction for the second offences was an “oversight” and “in part the result of his confusion about the relationship between the Pharmacy Council of the NSW, the Pharmacy Board of Australia and the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency”.

He did not notify AHPRA about the convictions until November 2017 when he was renewing his registration.

The pharmacist claimed that the offences were not premeditated and that childhood trauma via abuse from his stepfather, and the discovery that his biological father had lost his life to suicide, had made him “overreact” to the threatening situations.

The Tribunal found the pharmacist guilty of professional misconduct.

“A physical assault of a serious nature on a patient or former patient, in our view, is incompatible with the obligations owed by a pharmacist to current and former patients,” the Tribunal noted.

“It is not in the public interest that health practitioners pose a risk of harm to patients and former patients, including those who might exhibit challenging behaviours.”

The Tribunal decided not to exercise its discretion to prohibit the pharmacist from seeking review of the cancellation order for 12 months, saying that if after undertaking regular treatment, reliable expert opinion is available that the risk has been reduced to one that is not real and material, he should be able to apply for a review of the order.

The Tribunal gave the pharmacist 60 days until his registration is cancelled, to give him time to arrange matters relating to the ownership of his pharmacies, and for his patients to find another opioid replacement therapy supplier.

The pharmacist was ordered to pay 70% of the Health Care Complaints Commission’s costs in the matter.

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