Warrawong GP punished for drug breaches

File picture.

File picture.

A Warrawong doctor has been prosecuted for professional misconduct for prescribing addiction drugs to 20 patients, some of whom were on methadone programs.

On July 9, the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal ordered that Dr Gerhard Hofer be reprimanded and imposed strict conditions on his prescribing registration.

The tribunal removed the doctor's authority to possess, supply, administer or prescribe schedule 8 and schedule 4D drugs.

It found that Dr Hofer - a GP at the Bayview Medical Centre for the past 15 years - did not exercise proper medical judgment when issuing prescriptions and failed to keep proper clinical records.

According to the tribunal ‘‘his behaviour was repeated for a significant number of patients, and in some cases over many years without the exercise of proper clinical judgment’’.

The Health Care Complaints Commission prosecuted Dr Hofer after a routine investigation by the health department, which found irregularities in his prescribing of benzodiazepines, pethidine, tramal and panadeine forte.

The investigation was initiated after the 57-year-old doctor requested in May 2010 that his prescribing rights to S8 drugs be restored. Dr Hofer, a recovered drug addict, had voluntarily surrendered his right to prescribe S8 drugs in 2003 following a period in which he admitted to inappropriately prescribing and self-administering morphine.

Between March 2003 and March 2006, he had been on the Impaired Registrants Program. 

The tribunal noted that there was no suggestion the doctor had, since 2003, self-administered any drugs of addiction.

It also noted that the patients who consulted Dr Hofer at the medical centre were mainly ‘‘walk-in’’ patients who attended without an appointment and were bulk-billed. Up to 15per cent of his patients were, for a considerable amount of time, patients with a history of alcohol and/or other drug abuse with a significant number on a methadone program.

In a written statement put before the tribunal, Dr Hofer explained his rationale for prescribing benzodiazepines to people he knew ‘‘or should have suspected’’ were on the methadone program.

His treatment, he said, was to implement strategies, which included the aim of reducing the patients’ dependence on benzodiazepines over time. But he said his efforts to reduce the patients’ prescriptions for the S4D drugs took longer than expected.

Last week, the tribunal found that the HCCC complaints of professional misconduct had been proved. As well as the prescribing restrictions, the tribunal also ordered that Dr Hofer undertake a medical ethics course.