Legal roundup: Theft, forgery and supplying meth

Three health professionals have been found guilty of professional misconduct in separate cases related to drugs, including use of false prescriptions

Two nurses and a doctor, all from Queensland, have been reprimanded this month after hearings into their misconduct relating to prescription and non-prescription medicines.

A case of major depression

In the first case, a registered nurse was discovered to have stolen 138 vials of propofol from her workplace between 1 April 2016 and 24 May 2016.

At the time she was employed in a private clinic on a part-time basis and had the access code to the safe in which keys were kept for the locked cabinet that contained the propofol.

She admitted to police she had stolen the medicine on 20 separate occasions, and would use a syringe and needle to inject herself with up to 20ml of propofol at a time on a daily basis.

The nurse admitted to police she was suffering from major depression and used the drug for the purpose of attempting suicide.

She pleaded guilty in the Brisbane Magistrates Court to one charge of stealing by as a servant, and was sentenced to 18 months’ probation with no conviction recorded, and ordered to pay a sum of $900 in compensation to her previous employer.

Found to be suffering from bipolar affective disorder and substance use disorder related to benzodiazepines and propofol, the nurse’s registration lapsed in May 2018, which she has not yet renewed.

The Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal found she behaved in a way that constitutes professional misconduct, and ordered her to be reprimanded.

Should she apply for re-registration, she will be required to satisfy AHPRA as to her fitness to practise.

Theft, forgery and fraud

A second nurse has also been reprimanded after being convicted in Wynnum Magistrates Court on fraud charges in January 2015.

The nurse, who worked at a hospital at the time of the conduct, was charged after attending a medical practice and presenting a false letter in order to obtain prescription medication.

He had provided a false name and address at the time of consultation.

The nurse was released upon entering into a recognisance in the sum of $1,200 conditional upon him being of good behaviour for a period of 12 months, with no conviction recorded.

His employment was terminated a few months later.

Further convictions for criminal offences ensued in the Brisbane Magistrates Court in December 2015, on his own pleas of guilty to one count of stealing, one count of forgery, one count of uttering a forged document and one count of fraud.

Each of the counts arose from stealing a prescription pad in the name of a particular medical practitioner from the hospital at which he had worked, and prescribing false prescriptions from that pad between November 2014 and April 2015 on multiple occasions—obtaining prescription medications as a result.

The nurse was convicted of each charge and sentenced to probation for two years, ordered to perform 150 hours of community service and to pay $1,200. The recognisance imposed in January 2015 was revoked.

The Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal found the nurse had acted in a way that constitutes professional misconduct.

While he had eventually commenced receiving treatment for his addiction impairment, the tribunal noted this did not occur until 21 months after his employment had been terminated.

Following the lapse of his registration in October 2016, the nurse is banned from re-applying for registration for two years.

When he eventually does so, he will need to provide evidence he has addressed his addiction.

Supply of a dangerous drug

A doctor has been reprimanded and fined $30,000 after pleading guilty to four counts of supply and three counts of possession of a dangerous drug, namely methamphetamine.

He was convicted in the Supreme Court of Queensland in December 2015.

“Methamphetamine has a very significant potential for harm in the community. As a medical practitioner, [the doctor] ought to have been expected to appreciate that better than most,” said the judge during his sentencing remarks.

The conduct was undoubtedly “incompatible with the characteristics, attributes and ethical standards” required in the medical profession, satisfying the definition of professional misconduct, the tribunal found.

In deciding on sanctions, the tribunal took into account the five-and-a-half years that the doctor had been subject to urine drug screening and hair drug analysis several times a month in order to practice, for which he had spent approximately $31,000 of his own money.

During that period he never tested positive for any illicit substance.

He was also excluded from his hospital role, and consequently lost his teaching position due to his conviction.

However the tribunal decided to fine him the maximum amount permitted by the legislature—$30,000—“so as to recognise the seriousness with which the tribunal views the conduct”.

He was found guilty of professional misconduct and reprimanded.

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