28 Sep 2016

No unfair dismissal in Northland doctor's case

7:43 pm on 28 September 2016

A doctor who was fired from Whangarei Hospital for prescribing Class B drugs to her partner has lost her case for unfair dismissal.

Lynda Emmerson was working as the hospital's psychiatric registrar when she prescribed her partner painkillers, including morphine, despite him not being a patient.

She was sacked by the Northland District Health Board for breaching good medical practice, after having worked at the hospital for two-and-a-half years, including as a house surgeon.

She has now lost her case for unfair dismissal before the Employment Relations Authority (ERA).

Its investigation found she had been trying to help her partner recover from methamphetamine use.

She prescribed him a series of painkillers, and eventually two Class B drugs including morphine, without seeking the hospital's authority.

After going to the ERA, she claimed she was not trained properly, was not given enough supervision and other doctors did similar things like self-prescribe drugs.

The ERA rejected the latter accusation as she did not provide any evidence against other doctors.

Dr Emmerson also claimed she had been bullied by other doctors while at the hospital, but the ERA told her it could not investigate as she had not filed a grievance within the statutory 90 days.

The ERA found she was likely well aware of the rules and tried to manipulate a drug script to show it was for a patient at the hospital.

"Her role required a high level of trust and confidence in her prescribing practices ... despite these concerns, she took no steps other than to read an outdated 2009 edition of Coles Medical Practice in New Zealand," said ERA member Tania Tetitaha.

Despite the New Zealand Medical Council subsequently clearing Dr Emmerson to practice again, the Northland District Health Board said its trust in her was lost.