Tribunal finds general practitioner engaged in professional misconduct and unprofessional conduct

23 Jul 2018

The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (the tribunal) found Victorian general practitioner Dr Andrew John Griffiths engaged in professional misconduct and unprofessional conduct for inappropriately prescribing and/or providing medical treatment to patients.

The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (the tribunal) found Victorian general practitioner Dr Andrew John Griffiths engaged in professional misconduct and unprofessional conduct for inappropriately prescribing and/or providing medical treatment to patients.

The tribunal heard that Dr Griffiths was a solo practitioner working in a country town where he was the only on-call after hours doctor, including for the local nursing home. That resulted in a very high workload.

The allegations before the tribunal related to Dr Griffith’s professional conduct in relation to nine patients at various times between 1999 and 2013 and included:

  • inappropriate prescribing and/or providing inappropriate medical treatment
  • inappropriately treating persons with whom he shared a close personal or family relationship
  • inadequate notes or records in relation to the people he treated with whom he shared a close personal or family relationship
  • prescribing a drug of dependence in circumstances where he knew or ought to have known that the patient was a drug-dependent person, and
  • breaching permit obligations in relation to prescribing Schedule 8 poisons, including prescribing without a permit, prescribing after the permit expiry date and prescribing in excess of maximum dosages. The drugs prescribed included opioids and benzodiazepines.

With his agreement, the tribunal found that Dr Griffiths had:

  • engaged in eight instances of unprofessional conduct under the Medical Practice Act 1994 (Vic)
  • four instances of professional misconduct and ten of unprofessional conduct under the Health Professions Registration Act 2005 (Vic), and
  • six instances of professional misconduct and eight of unprofessional conduct under the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law, as in force in each state and territory (the current legislation).

The tribunal reprimanded Dr Griffiths and suspended him for a period of three months from 1 May 2017. Dr Griffiths also had education, audit and mentoring conditions imposed on his registration with effect from 1 June 2017.

The tribunal noted that these are the first and only disciplinary proceedings that have been brought against Dr Griffiths in his medical career.

In the reasons, it stated:

‘Although removing a clearly unsafe practitioner from practice will take priority over the impact on the community of losing a doctor, Dr Griffiths is not in that category, and it was relevant in this case to consider the impact of any period of suspension and the need to limit any period to no more than is necessary to achieve the objectives of determinations.

The tribunal also noted that this case highlights ‘the hazards of high workloads for general practitioners in sole rural practices, and the pressures they can come under in the course of their practice, including to treat persons with whom they have a close personal or family connection. Ultimately, practitioners themselves must ensure that they are able to maintain the standards the profession and the public expect of them. But rural communities that depend heavily on the commitment and dedication of their doctors will also need to do all in their power to ensure those doctors do not break under the strain.'

The reasons for the tribunal’s decision can be viewed on the Austlii website.

 
 
Page reviewed 23/07/2018