On 24 April 2018 the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal considered a charge against Dr Stephen John Augustine of Georgia, United States of America, formerly of Gisborne (the Doctor).
Particular 1 of the charge alleged that between August 2015 and March 2016, the Doctor while employed as an orthopaedic surgeon based at Gisborne Hospital, wrote presciptions for himself and his wife for codeine phosphate tablets by forging the signature of another medical practitioner and by using that practitioner's identifying prescriber stamp on Hospital prescription forms. Charges were laid against the Doctor in the District Court and he was discharged without conviction.
Particular 2 of the charge alleged between 3 July 2015 and 4 November 2015, the Doctor on his own behalf wrote further prescriptions for codeine phosphate tablets for his wife when he knew or ought to have known that such prescribing of a drug of dependence was inappropriate and/or contrary to acceptable medical practice.
The hearing proceeded on the basis of an agreed summary of facts.
There were a total of twenty forged prescriptions. On ten of these occasions the Doctor wrote prescriptions using his own patient details and on the other ten occasions his wife's patient details. On two of the occasions the Doctor committed more than one forgery on the same day. The Doctor presented the forged prescriptions at seven different community pharmacies in the Gisborne area and collected the drugs himself, although on three occasions the prescriptions were placed on hold by the pharmacist and were not dispensed.
The Doctor acknowledged that his wife was not a patient of his and he further agreed that he failed to keep any clinical records including his diagnosis, treatment of, and prescribing to, his wife on these occasions. The Doctor accepted that he should have referred his wife to another medical practitioner for independent advice, care and treatment.
The Tribunal had no hesitation in finding the Charge and each of its two particulars both severally and cumulatively amounted to professional misconduct.
The Doctor is no longer living in New Zealand and he does not intend to return to practise medicine here. The Doctor did not attend the hearing and the Tribunal considered there was no reliable evidence placed before it which set out the reasons behind the Doctor's offending. The Tribunal was satisfied there were plenty of opportunities for him to do so. He could have responded to the PCC inquiries. He could have sworn an affidavit and asked that this be taken into account. He could have made arrangements to attend the hearing by video conference if he could not attend in person.
The Tribunal found the Doctor is a danger to the public which needs protection from him.
The Tribunal censured the Doctor, cancelled his registration, and ordered him to pay costs of $19,000.
The Tribunal considered carefully whether its concerns could be addressed by any other order short of cancellation of the Doctor's registration. The Tribunal was satisfied a suspension order or conditions on any resumption of practice would be nugatory as he had no plans to practise in New Zealand again. The Tribunal cancelled his registration so that, if he ever does wish to return to New Zeland and practise, he can make the appropriate application and the full situation could be considered by the Medical Council.
The Tribunal further directed publication of its decison and a summary.