The key issues
The issues of this case include:
- Holding out others as medical practitioners;
- Dishonest conduct with the regulator; and
- Deception of patients for personal financial gain.
Between June and November 2016, the respondent admitted that he:
- held out an employee, Ms Pacheco, as a registered medical practitioner in that he delegated and referred patients to her and knowingly allowed her to treat patients and carry out cosmetic medical procedures;
- pre-signed blank prescription forms and radiology and pathology requests, incorrectly stored medications and disposed of sharps and possessed expired medications; and
- made false and misleading statements to AHPRA officials during a compliance inspection about Ms Pacheco’s registration status.
On 19 November 2018, the respondent pleaded guilty to and was convicted of seven charges under the National Law for knowingly claiming an unregistered person was registered.
At the time of the disciplinary hearing, the respondent had not worked as a medical practitioner since November 2016.
As well as performing cosmetic procedures, the tribunal found that Ms Pacheco had also written prescriptions under the respondent’s name for blood pressure medication, malaria treatment and stroke-related medication and carried out vaginal swabs. The items were charged as if the respondent had been the provider, in most cases where he was seeing other patients.
The tribunal considered that the conduct in each respect involved deception in almost every aspect of the practice of medicine – deception of patients, Medicare, pharmacists, radiologists and the regulator.
The tribunal also found that the respondent endangered the health and safety of patients.
In determining an appropriate sanction, the tribunal noted that the respondent had previously been found guilty of criminal offending and removed from the register. That offending related to convictions for serious fraud, unrelated to his medical practice. The respondent was convicted of two charges involving passing cheques to create the illusion of credit balances.
The respondent had also previously been subject to other disciplinary proceedings before the board.
The tribunal considered that a disqualification period of two years properly reflected the very serious nature of the conduct and ensured the appropriate message was sent to the profession and the community. It took into account the matters in the respondent’s favour including his cooperation with the Board’s investigation but also reflected the importance of specific deterrence given his disciplinary history.
The tribunal found that the respondent behaved in a way that constitutes professional misconduct, reprimanded him, and disqualified him from applying for registration for two years.
There are significant disciplinary sanctions for practitioners engaging in deceptive and dishonest conduct – conduct that calls into question a practitioner’s fitness and propriety.
The decision Medical Board of Australia v Bernard (Review and Regulation)  VCAT 222 can be read here.