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High Court Quashes Doctor's Suspension

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Gisborne, Oct 16 NZPA - A High Court judge has quashed the 12-month suspension of Gisborne doctor Fergus Aitcheson who was found to be using his patients as a means of feeding his pethidine addiction.

The decision means Dr Aitcheson will not spend any time away from practising at Kaiti Medical Centre, where his colleagues are thrilled they have not lost the services of a "gifted" general practitioner.

Justice Patrick Keane, who presided over the High Court appeal in Auckland in early September, made only one other change to the original ruling by the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal.

The tribunal said Dr Aitcheson would need to provide a urine sample every two weeks, but Justice Keane ruled urine samples would only be needed at the request of the National Health Committee.

Dr Aitcheson was found guilty of professional misconduct by the tribunal in May this year. He was charged with prescribing pethidine for clinical procedures at Gisborne Hospital with the intention of using it himself.

Stringent conditions, including hair testing every three months, at his own cost, and a very limited scope of practice, must continue to be upheld, said Justice Keane.

Dr Aitcheson must still pay a $10,000 fine as well as 40 percent of the tribunal costs, which are thought to be significant. He must not have any access to pethidine, or any other opiate-type drug, during his practice as a GP.

The stringent conditions and monitoring of Dr Aitcheson was all worth it, to keep him at KMC, said owner-partner Dr Simon Spenceley.

"We are excited and happy to know that this gifted and dedicated doctor will be staying with us," he said.

"We are going to have a mature, experienced practitioner who brings unique skills because of his past life as a hospital-based clinician, his connection with former colleagues and the working community.

"It will improve the link between primary and secondary health services, as well as providing excellent care for our patients."

The suspension of Dr Aitcheson would have been a blow to the low-decile community he served, said Dr Spenceley.

"As a practice we benefit from retaining doctors such as Dr Aitcheson, particularly because Kaiti has quite a high medical demand.

"Kaiti needs him. But then again, it is not only Kaiti, we have patients from across the other side of town."

Dr Spenceley said he thought Dr Aitcheson was "extremely pleased" with the results, despite a "difficult" wait for the appeal decision.

The tribunal originally decided to suspend Dr Aitcheson because of the "real" chance of a relapse, which would "prove to be significantly harmful to the Gisborne community and patients".

A period of suspension was warranted given the serious nature of the offending, the importance of maintaining standards and the risk to the public.

The Professional Conduct Committee bought action against Dr Aitcheson after he relapsed for the third time in 2005 while working as a physician at Gisborne Hospital.

His relapse came to light in early 2006 and an internal inquiry was commissioned to look into 47 cases where Dr Aitcheson had prescribed pethidine. It found one patient received an unnecessary operation.

Dr Aitcheson declined to comment on the appeal decision.


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