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Tribunal suspends, reprimands and imposes conditions on GP for inappropriate prescribing

03 Mar 2020

A tribunal has reprimanded a general practitioner for inadequate patient management and inappropriate prescribing.

On 15 November 2017, the Medical Board of Australia (the Board) referred Dr Christopher Watts to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (the tribunal) for professional misconduct and unprofessional conduct.

The allegations against Dr Watts related to his prescribing of drugs, primarily opioids and benzodiazepines, to eight patients over an extended period. The longest was just short of 13 years between 25 October 2001 to 6 October 2014. In nearly all cases, the patients were already or became, as a result of Dr Watt’s prescribing, drug dependent. One patient was thirteen years old when Dr Watts first prescribed diazepam and Tramal (a benzodiazepine and strong analgesic respectively). Dr Watts had been previously cautioned for similar offences in 2005.

By way of mitigation, Dr Watts advised that most patients at the clinic where he practised were people on low incomes who generally presented with a range of complex medical, social and psychological issues. However, Dr Watts agreed that his prescribing behaviours placed his patients at risk, in terms of addiction, adverse drug effects and the potential for a fatal overdose.

Dr Watts also advised he had sought treatment for anxiety that followed the notification. As a result of this treatment, Dr Watts gained insight into why he had fallen into a pattern of excessive prescribing.

On 20 September 2019, the tribunal reprimanded Dr Watts, suspended him for six months and imposed conditions on his registration including that he:

  • undertake education in relation to prescribing of medication including in accordance with the Drugs and Poisons legislation, record keeping and training in relation to the Medical Board’s Code of conduct, Good medical practice
  •  be treated by a psychiatrist at a frequency determined by the treating practitioner with reports to the Board
  • work only in places approved by the Board
  • have supervision of his practice by a Board approved supervisor with reports to the Board
  • have audit of his practice (upon return to practice)
  • is prohibited from prescribing schedule 8 medication throughout the period of supervision.

In August 2013, Dr Watts had also appeared in the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria in respect of charges relating to nine offences under the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981 in respect of his prescribing, some of which overlapped with the allegations the subject of the hearing proceedings. He was released, without conviction on an undertaking to be of good behaviour for 12 months and agreement to pay prosecution costs.

The tribunal has published the decision on its website.

Page reviewed 3/03/2020