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Medical boards are not addressing the problems within their own profession

By Karel Lyons - posted Monday, 31 March 2003

Imagine that you are baking when your 15-month-old daughter reaches out and burns her hand on the oven door.

You rush her to your local GP, a woman in her late 50s, who quiets the toddler with an injection for pain, and another for nausea, before dressing her burn.

Hours later you find your baby dead in her cot. You and your daughter have just become the victims of a drug-impaired doctor.


The Morphine injection that your child was given was ten times the recommended paediatric dosage, while the accompanying Maxolon injection was five times greater than normal.

Your GP was charged with manslaughter. She served six months of a five-year sentence, made retrospective to the date of the incident, and was released last November. She may already have applied to have her license re-instated.

This is a real case. Although the GP was known to be substance-impaired for at least two years; and had been monitored by her medical board for that period, she was permitted by that same medical board to remain in clinical practice. During this two-year period her identity was kept secret, under medical board legislation, in order to protect her anonymity.

Your right to freedom of fully informed choice of a treating physician has been usurped by a medical board apparently more concerned with protecting its doctors, than protecting the patients of its doctors.

There can be no doubt had you known of this doctor's impairment and board monitoring history; and had you also known about the three ampoules of Pethedine which were unaccounted for at her surgery that morning; you would have exercised your better judgement and taken your child to another doctor, one who was drug-free and competent.

But because of legislated secrecy, you had none of this vital information available. In every State there is medical board legislation in place prohibiting the release of such information to the public.


Throughout Australia, it is conservatively estimated that there are 5,000 substance-impaired doctors working in surgeries and operating theatres at any given time. This translates to one in ten registered practitioners.

Can you be sure that your family doctor is not one of them? No.

And it will further surprise you to find that there are no pro-active initiatives by any of our medical boards to identify, treat, and rehabilitate doctors who are over-using alcohol, abusing drugs or under psychiatric treatment. Only doctors who self-report or are reported by others will be monitored and subjected to monthly urine screening by their medical boards.

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About the Author

Karel Lyons is Manager of Patient Injury Support & Advocacy.

Other articles by this Author

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