The immediate action process arose from a notification the Board received in August 2016 that the practitioner, who was practicing in both the US and Australia, had had his medical licence summarily suspended in June 2016 by Judge Mandala, an Administrative Law Judge of the Alaskan Office of Administrative Hearings. The practitioner’s suspension in Alaska followed an investigation into his prescribing practices after complaints from a number of pharmacists who had found unusual and troubling prescribing patterns, with new patients without a documented history of prior prescriptions presenting with simultaneous prescriptions for multiple controlled substances, or high dose opioids, or both. Additional concerns were raised about the similarities between large number of prescriptions, including the same vague diagnoses – typically, “chronic pain” – listed on all prescriptions.
Judge Mandala concluded that, based on the evidence presented, the practitioner’s practices posed ‘a clear and immediate danger’ to the public health and safety; and summary suspension during the pendency of disciplinary proceedings was justified. A final hearing of the disciplinary allegations did not take place because the practitioner voluntarily and irrevocably surrendered his Alaskan medical licence in August 2016.
Although not identical, summary suspension under Alaskan law is similar to a decision to suspend under the immediate action provisions of the National Law.
The question for the Tribunal was whether there was power to take immediate action under s 156.
With primacy of patient safety in mind, the Tribunal concluded that there was power to take immediate action under the National Law on two bases:
- The practitioner’s registration had been suspended under the law of a jurisdiction, namely Alaska, that is not a participating jurisdiction (s 156(1)(d)); and
- It was reasonable to believe that because of the practitioner’s performance he poses a serious risk to persons and it is necessary to take immediate action to protect public health of safety (s 156(1)(a)).
The Tribunal considered that the material before it raised serious questions about the practitioner’s professional judgment and indicated an apparently reckless disregard for patient safety potentially putting patients at risk. Further, as a separate matter, it considered immediate action warranted on the basis of the suspension of his registration in Alaska, because of the reasons for that suspension as set out in the Alaskan judgment.
As a result of the breadth of concerns identified, immediate action in the form of suspension was the minimum regulatory action required to protect the public health or safety.
To read the decision in Ahmad v Medical Board of Australia (Review and Regulation)  VCAT 1647, click here.