Unregistered woman wrote scripts, did skin checks

legal law case justice crime

Deception of pharmacists was highlighted in a case where a GP held out a staff member as a registered doctor when she was not

The Medical Board of Australia has issued a statement about a former GP who held out a staff member as a registered health practitioner.

The Board had referred Roger Bernard, a former GP from Victoria, to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, alleging that he had held out a woman named Phoebe Pacheco as a registered medical practitioner.

It alleged that he had delegated and referred patients to her and knowingly allowed her to consult and/or treat patients when he either knew, or should have known, that she was not registered as a health professional at all – and never had been.

The Board also alleged that Mr Bernard failed to practise medicine safely by pre-signing blank prescription forms, pre-signing blank radiology and pathology request forms, incorrectly storing medications, possessing expired medications and failing to properly dispose of sharps.

It was also alleged that he had made false and/or misleading statements to Ahpra.

The conduct took place from June 2016 to November 2016, at which time Mr Bernard, who was then a GP, was practising at the Werribee Cosmetic Clinic.

During this time, Ms Pacheco wrote scripts under Mr Bernard’s name for blood pressure medication, malaria treatment, treatment for stroke and dermal fillers.

“She carried out vaginal swabs, skin checks (including on a 16-year-old girl who had already seen her GP and wanted a second opinion), administered injections to treat varicose veins and administered filler,” the Tribunal noted.

“The items were charged as if Dr Bernard had been the provider, in most cases while he was seeing other patients. It effectively allowed him to be in two places at once.”

In November that year the Board suspended his medical registration. It accepted the surrender of his registration in April 2020.

The conduct had also been the subject of criminal proceedings in November 2018, and a successful statutory offence prosecution by Ahpra.

At that time, Dr Bernard pleaded guilty to and was convicted of seven charges of knowingly claiming an unregistered person was registered and fined $16,500. He was also ordered to pay costs to Ahpra of $27,617 in addition to the $16k fine.

Ms Pacheco also pleaded guilty and was fined $7,500 as part of this prosecution. A conviction was not recorded.

At the March 2021 Tribunal hearing, the tribunal found that Mr Bernard had engaged in professional misconduct.

It reprimanded him and disqualified him from applying for registration for two years.

The Tribunal noted that, “The conduct in each of the allegations involves deception in almost every aspect of the practice of medicine”.

This included “deception of patients who were led to believe that Ms Pacheco was a registered medical practitioner when she advised them, treated them and wrote prescriptions for them; deception of Medicare in that items, which depended on a GP providing the service, were claimed for under his provider number; deception of the pharmacists who dispensed medication and the pathologists and radiologists who carried out pathology and imaging requests; and deception of the regulator,” it said.

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