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Medical Council Didn't Tell Board That Doctor Was Off Register

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Fuseworks Media
Medical Council Didn't Tell Board That Doctor Was Off Register

 The Medical Council expected District Health Board (DHB) bosses to regularly check its website to determine whether the doctors they employed held a practising certificate, the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal was told today.

It was the second day of evidence in support of three charges laid by the Professional Misconduct Committee against former Invercargill urologist, Dr Sajan Bhatia. They include one charge of practising without holding an annual practising certificate, one of failing to comply with conditions of practice and one of professional misconduct.

During his evidence to the panel, Medical Council registrar David Dunbar admitted that, after it was decided in December 2008 that Dr Bhatia would not be issued with an annual practising certificate, the council did not advise either the then Southland District Health Board or Southern Cross Hospital, in Invercargill, where Dr Bhatia often performed surgery.

It meant that during the four months after the council ordered Dr Bhatia to cease medical practice, he continued to do so without challenge.

During that time he wrote out almost 250 prescriptions and continued to perform surgery at Southern Cross.

It was only when the hospital contacted the council to inquire why Dr Bhatia's name was not on the register, that it was revealed he was not entitled to practise medicine.

Mr Dunbar told the panel one of its lessons from Dr Bhatia's case was that the council needed to clarify who it informed when a doctor did not have a practising certificate.

"We rely on the website as the first call for employers wanting to know if doctors are registered."

Tribunal member Michael Laney asked Mr Dunbar whether it was realistic for health board chiefs, who employed hundreds of doctors, to regularly check the website for that information.

He also queried the process the council had adopted to ensure Dr Bhatia met a series of conditions imposed on him, following an earlier tribunal decision in February 2007.

Dr Bhatia was required to join a peer review group and regularly attend its meetings; to undergo a clinical audit every three months and supply those results to the Medical Council; and be placed under the supervision of another urologist.

The Professional Misconduct Committee contended he had failed to do so.

Mr Laney: "Is it fair that someone being disciplined is asked to look after himself?"

Several panel members also expressed confusion about the details of each condition imposed on Dr Bhatia and queried whether the apparent lack of clear direction may have affected the doctor's ability to comply with them.

But Mr Dunbar said Dr Bhatia had never asked for clarification during any of his correspondence with the council during 2007 and 2008. He had also failed to make any contact with the council after it advised him in November 2008 that it would make a decision about his practising certificate the following month. Dr Bhatia was given the chance to make a written submission and an appearance before the council but did not, Mr Dunbar said.

The case was adjourned until the evidence of an expert witness becomes available next month.

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