The health practitioner watchdog has warned optometrists to comply with their registration requirements after a New South Wales eyecare professional became aware that he wasn’t licensed to practise 16 years after his registration lapsed.
The Sydney-based optometrist was recently fined $7,700 after pleading guilty to nine charges brought by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (Ahpra). He was also ordered to pay Ahpra’s legal costs of $4,813.
“Maintaining current registration is an important professional obligation for all registered health practitioners,” Ahpra CEO Mr Martin Fletcher said.
“This court outcome is a timely reminder for all registered practitioners to keep on top of their registration requirements. Falsely claiming to be a registered health practitioner or prescribing optical appliances without being registered or authorised is a criminal offence under the National Law.”
According to Ahpra, the optometrist’s registration lapsed in 2003 after he failed to renew it. While unregistered, he continued to practise. In September 2019 he became aware he wasn’t registered and immediately ceased working. He has since returned to the register after reapplying.
He was sentenced in May by the Downing Centre Local Court of New South Wales for one charge of holding himself out as an optometrist and eight charges of prescribing optical appliances in breach of the National Law. Ahpra’s prosecution focused on the period between 1 July and 25 September 2019, when he worked and performed his usual duties as the clinic’s sole optometrist.
Magistrate Megan Greenwood noted the optometrist was dedicated to his patients and there was no evidence of harm, but the “community has the right to expect all health practitioners they deal with to be registered”.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court of South Australia has extended the disqualification period imposed on a former Adelaide optometrist from one to five years after he changed the results of tests without clinical justification 410 times.
The decision followed the Optometry Board of Australia (OBA)’s appeal against an earlier South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal ruling in August 2020. The tribunal disqualified the practitioner from applying for registration for 12 months, ordered he be reprimanded and pay the OBA’s costs after it found his actions amounted to professional misconduct.
It heard that between February 2015 and January 2016, the optometrist used his log in credentials to change patient records entered by another optometrist. Due to his actions, 313 sets of glasses from a total of 359 scripts were defective. In the remaining cases, alterations were corrected before the glasses were made. A total of 96 sets, or 30% of glasses, were later returned to the practice by customers, compared to a usual return rate of 4-5%.
The glasses had to be remade at the store’s cost, and the optometrist whose records were changed lost confidence in their work. The misconduct came to light after an investigation by a forensic accountant.
After considering the OBA’s appeal, the Supreme Court found in May that a significant period of disqualification was required to protect the public, maintain confidence in the profession and to send a message to the profession that such conduct cannot be tolerated. The court extended the registration disqualification period from one to five years, dated from 5 August 2020.
“This optometrist’s behaviour was contrary to patients’ best interests and this outcome reflects his serious departure from the high standards the board and Australian communities expect of registered optometrists,” OBA chair Mr Ian Bluntish said.
Fletcher added: “This matter involved very deceptive behaviour by a registered health practitioner. Together with the National Boards, Ahpra will continue to take action against those who put members of the public at risk,” he said.