Patients of doctor addicted to opioids to be told of censure decision, High Court rules

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A number of former patients of a doctor who admitted working under the influence of opioids are to be informed shortly about a decision to allow him to continue to practice under a number of restrictions, the High Court heard.

The patients, while bound to be shocked when they are informed of the doctor's misconduct, can then seek medical or legal advice into relation to what steps they may wish to take, the president of the court Mr Justice Peter Kelly said.

He made the comments when confirming a Medical Council recommendation that the GP be censured and a number of conditions be attached to his registration.

These include that he continue attending treatment and counselling for his addiction and that he not be allowed prescribe opioids unsupervised for a period of not less than five years.

The doctor became addicted to opioids after he had been prescribed pain relief for injuries he suffered some years earlier, the court heard.

After he admitted a number of counts of misconduct, a council Fitness to Practice Committee (FtPC) had recommended censure with conditional registration, rather than a strike off.

The FtPC said he had demonstrated insight into his conduct and on being challenged by his colleagues had made immediate admissions. He sought help and had withdrawn from the practice in which he was a partner.

The chief executive of the Medical Council took the view he should be struck off because his conduct was "at the most serious end of the spectrum”.

However, the full Medical Council agreed with the FtPC censure sanction given the admissions he made and his rehabilitation.

The council then asked the High Court to confirm the decision.

Mr Justice Kelly said the council and the chief executive argued their cases forcefully but the court was required to confirm the council's decision unless there were good reasons not to do so, he said.

It could not be said the council made a decision which was so unreasonable that the court should not follow it. He, therefore, confirmed the decision of censure with conditions.

The judge said the doctor was found guilty of a substantial number of wrongdoings.

These included administering opioids to 36 named patients where he knew it was not clinically warranted or was inappropriate.

He also admitted prescribing opioids to six patients in excessive strengths and/or quantities. Anything left over in the vials of medication, he admitted using on himself.

He admitted that on one or more occasions during a three-year period, he took Tramadol samples from one or more pharmaceutical company representatives for himself. He also obtained Tramadol and/or Cyclimorph and well as Pethidine and/or morphine sulphate from practice stock supplies or by using stock practice prescriptions.

He admitted prescribing 10 vials of Cyclimorph for an identified patient and presenting that prescription to a pharmacy in circumstances where the doctor knew or ought to have known this was inappropriate.

He admitted he was under the influence of opioids while engaged in practice and that this may impair his ability to do so.

In relation to informing his former patients about these findings, the court heard the council had decided they should be supplied with transcripts of the FtPC inquiry insofar as it relates to each one of them. Their contact details were known to the doctor's former partner who made the original complaints about him.

The judge said it was proper and preferable the patients be told in as sensitive a way as possible "but I have no doubt it will be a great shock to them".

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