This case considered whether a practitioner's registration should be cancelled because the practitioner had failed to disclose charges and convictions of criminal offences to the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia.
The Respondent first obtained registration as a registered nurse on 5 December 2002. During the period between 1 May 2005 and 14 May 2015, the Respondent was employed at a private hospital.
The Queensland Health Police Liaison Unit of the Queensland Police Service notified the Health Ombudsman by letter dated 23 January 2015 that the Respondent was convicted of fraud charges in the Wynnum Magistrates Court on 19 January 2015. The charges related to the Respondent attending a medical practice and presenting a letter purportedly from a doctor in the USA, where the Respondent said he was holidaying from, to obtain prescription medication. During this consultation, the Respondent provided a false name and address. The Respondent was released, after entering into a recognisance in the sum of $1,200 conditional on the Respondent being of good behaviour for a period of 12 months, with no conviction recorded.
The Letter from the Queensland Police Services noted that both the Health Ombudsman and the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) should be made aware of the details, and a notification was subsequently given to AHPRA from the Health Ombudsman by letter dated 2 March 2015.
The private hospital suspended the Respondent on full pay from 29 April 2015 during the investigation, and then terminated the Respondent's employment from 14 May 2015.
On 14 May 2015, the Queensland Notification Committee of the AHPRA Board began investigating the matter, and informed the Respondent that he was required to undergo a health assessment on 15 July 2015. The Respondent subsequently failed to attend the assessment, or to provide any information in relation to the health matter. The Respondent was altogether unreachable, until he made an application for a renewal of his registration, to which AHPRA requested further information.
The Committee suspended the Respondent's registration on 1 October 2015, and the Respondent attended his health assessment with Dr Prior on 11 November 2015. Dr Prior concluded that the Respondent had a substance use disorder that rendered him not fit to practice as a Registered Nurse. Following this, the Board imposed a condition on the Respondent's registration on 25 August 2016, and the Respondent subsequently failed to renew his registration on 24 October 2016.
The Office of the Health Ombudsman commenced their investigation on 12 May 2015, and during this investigation received information that the Respondent held further convictions for criminal offences heard in the Brisbane Magistrates Court, on the Respondent's own plea of guilty, of one count of stealing, one count of forgery, one count of uttering a forged document and one count of fraud. Each count related to stealing a prescription pad, prescribing false prescriptions and obtaining prescription medications as a result. The Respondent was convicted of each charge, however no convictions were recorded. As a result of the conviction, the Respondent was sentence to probation for two years, ordered to perform 150 hours community service and ordered to pay $1,200 as the recognisance imposed previously on 19 January 2015 was revoked.
The Health Ombudsman submitted that the conduct the subject of the Respondent's criminal offences heard in the Wynnum Magistrates Court and the Brisbane Magistrates Court, as well as a separate attempt to procure a medical prescription from a general practitioner by giving false information in relation to his personal details on 11 September 2016 all amounted to professional misconduct. The Tribunal was satisfied with this.
The further charges against the Respondent, being a failure to notify the Board within seven days (or at all) of having been charged as requested by s 130 of the National Law, stating that there had been no change in criminal history on an application for renewal of registration on 21 May 2015, and a further failure to notify within seven days (or at all) of having been charged with further criminal offences, were regarded as unprofessional conduct.
The Tribunal found that, when there exists conduct that amounts to unprofessional conduct where there is a more serious primary offending, the unprofessional conduct is to be treated as secondary to the primary misconduct. As such, the Tribunal found the totality of the conduct amounted to professional misconduct.
The Tribunal noted the limitations on orders available to the Tribunal as the Respondent was no longer a registered practitioner. While the Tribunal recognised the Respondent's impairment which, for a time, he sought to address, the Tribunal did not believe that this impairment excused his behaviour but gave context to the offending.
Considering the Respondent's complete refusal to engage in the disciplinary proceedings, the Tribunal had no evidence as to the current status of the impairment. Further, the Tribunal noted that the conduct of the Respondent during the referral process gave rise to concerns to his underlying character, being that the Respondent attempted to prevent the pursuit of the proceedings by avoiding service.
The Respondent did not renew his registration in October 2016, and failed to engage in any rehabilitation to address his impairment under January 2017, a full 21 months after his employment was terminated.
The Tribunal considered it appropriate, taking into consideration the Respondent's lack of engagement in the process, uncooperative behaviour and lack of evidence of insight or remorse, to disqualify the Respondent for 2 years from reapplying for Registration.
The Tribunal held:
- Pursuant to s 107(2) of the Health Ombudsman Act 2013 (Qld), Mr Sabo has behaved in a way that constitutes professional misconduct.
- Pursuant to s 107(3)(a) of the Health Ombudsman Act 2013 (Qld), Mr Sabo is reprimanded.
- Pursuant to s 107(4)(a) of the Health Ombudsman Act 2013 (Qld), Mr Field is disqualified from applying for registration for a period of 2 years, from the date hereof.
- There be no order as to costs.