Allegation of prescribing drugs to patients on demand

The Medical Council receives approximately 300 complaints each year in relation to doctors. If a complaint is considered to warrant further action, it is referred to the Fitness to Practice Committee who will hold an inquiry into the doctor(s) concerned.

As a percentage of the total number of complaints received, our statistics show that approximately 10 per cent will be referred to the Fitness to Practise Committee for hearing.

However, in respect of complaints received regarding prescriptions and prescribing practices, the percentage of complaints referred for hearing would be much closer to 50 per cent. The following is an example of such a complaint which led to a Fitness to Practise inquiry.

'The Medical Council received a complaint in relation to a doctor in which allegations were made regarding irresponsible prescribing. The doctor in question was alleged to have been prescribing drugs on demand to a number of people.

Evidence was heard from patients who had received these prescriptions and also from pharmacists to whom these prescriptions had been presented. The Committee also considered expert evidence as to what would be considered appropriate prescribing under the circumstances.

After the inquiry had concluded and based on the serious finding of professional misconduct, the doctor’s registration was cancelled.

The doctor, following an application made two years later, was subsequently restored to the Register with conditions attached to the retention of his name.

These conditions were imposed by Council in order to (a) restrict the doctor from further such prescribing and to (b) give support to the doctor who was in a single-handed practice with little or no support as is the case with the majority of those doctors who find themselves the subject of complaints of this nature.’

If you are a doctor working in sole practice, you might consider aligning yourself to as many support networks and organisations as possible to avoid the pitfalls which are often attributed to the nature of working in sole practice. This might include approaching a nearby medical clinic for advisory support or any local medical or doctors groups which might be a useful forum for seeking advice and sharing similar experiences.

By aligning with an appropriate training body, you may also have access to a number of support and advisory networks.

Note: The relevant complaint category for issues in relation to prescribing is category ‘A’.