10 Oct 2016
The ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (the tribunal) has reprimanded a medical practitioner, suspended and imposed conditions on her registration following repeated illicit drug use, amounting to professional misconduct.
The Medical Board of Australia (the Board) referred Dr Nilanthi Kanapathipillai’s case to tribunal on 1 May 2015, after reaching the view that her actions over a lengthy period constituted professional misconduct. The allegations included use of a nurse’s phone while at work to procure illicit drugs, repeated drug use over a protracted period and repeated misrepresentations to the Board and other health practitioners, to whom she had been referred, about the extent of her drugs use.
After the Board filed and served the application for disciplinary action, the practitioner made a number of admissions and agreed that her behaviour over an extended time constituted professional misconduct but denied that she had procured illicit drugs using a colleague’s phone while at work on 1 July 2014 or that she had used illicit drugs after 22 August 2014.
The tribunal heard extensive evidence about the accuracy of hair testing results to confirm drug use over an extended period as well as from several psychiatrists and a psychologist on whether the practitioner suffers from a personality disorder or other mental health condition.
The issue of insight or whether or not the practitioner accepted both the formal diagnoses of a mental disorder, and the harmful effects illicit drug use might have on her performance as a medical practitioner, was also raised in expert testimony and in evidence given to the tribunal by the practitioner, herself. The tribunal was satisfied on the medical evidence that the practitioner suffers from a personality disorder, and a lack of insight is a recognised symptom of the personality disorder.
The tribunal referred to the Board’s Good Medical Practice: A Code of Conduct for Doctors in Australia, which highlights expectations of medical practitioners to have self-awareness and self-reflection and to seek independent, objective advice when needing medical care.
Before referring the matter to tribunal, in August 2014 the Board had taken immediate action and had suspended Dr Kanapathipillai’s medical registration. This action followed the receipt of several related notifications. At the hearing in November 2015 the tribunal considered the practitioner’s period of suspension to practise medicine has given her the opportunity to reflect on her past conduct and seek help from her treating health practitioners. However, the tribunal remained uncertain as to whether Dr Kanapathipillai had gained full insight into her mental conditions and the effects they may have on her performance as a medical practitioner. The tribunal’s orders reflect this.
The tribunal was satisfied that Dr Kanapathipillai had behaved in a way that constitutes professional misconduct and suspended the practitioner’s medical registration from 14 October 2014 for a period of two years.
If Dr Kanapathipillai resumes clinical practice after that time the practitioner’s registration will be subject to 16 conditions for a period of 24 months. The conditions include drug testing, treatment of health conditions, supervision mentoring, and education.
The tribunal also ordered that the practitioner pay the Board’s costs.
The reasons for the decision are available on the tribunal’s website.