A tribunal has deemed an experienced Canberra doctor "a serious risk", upholding a decision to suspend her medical registration after she had an intimate relationship with a patient and prescribed him "extensive" medications.
Dr Claire Dielenberg's counsel conceded at an ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal hearing that her prescribing of the drugs had been "highly inappropriate".
The doctor even made the extraordinary admission while giving evidence that her patient, who cannot legally be named, may have sold some of the medications she prescribed.
A tribunal decision, published this week, reveals the Medical Board of Australia suspended Dr Dielenberg, a general practitioner with more than 30 years' experience, in April.
This followed four people reporting her to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency in late January and early February.
Two of the notifications came from fellow health professionals, another was made by an anonymous source, and the last was provided by a police officer.
The reports revealed allegations Dr Dielenberg had been in a relationship with a patient who had "significant mental health issues" and was now in custody.
She was said to have been living with this man and prescribing him "a large amount of medication" prior to his incarceration.
After the board decided to suspend the doctor's registration because of "continuing concerns that [she] posed a serious risk", Dr Dielenberg applied to the tribunal for a review.
Her lawyers argued that "the protection of public health or safety did not require the suspension of [her] registration".
The tribunal's decision shows it held a hearing last month, with Dr Dielenberg giving evidence.
She told the tribunal she had commenced a sexual relationship with the patient, referred to only as SB, in December 2019, and SB ended up moving in with her at her Canberra property.
"She said their sexual relationship continued for approximately two months and that he stayed living in her property until he was arrested by police in January 2021," the tribunal's decision says.
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Dr Dielenberg said she initially wrote SB an antibiotic script for skin irritation, but later began prescribing other medications "as a result of his coercion".
She said he was persistent, aggressive and manipulative, and she felt "under duress" to comply with his demands.
According to the decision, she prescribed the patient drugs including benzodiazepines and opioids.
In an expert report to the tribunal, Dr Gillian Singleton opined that Dr Dielenberg's prescribing of such drugs without clinical justification, and in unreasonable quantities, potentially exposed SB to harm.
Dr Singleton was particularly troubled that Dr Dielenberg had, at one stage, prescribed the drug dependent man 450 Ritalin tablets in 13 days, describing this as being of significant concern.
Dr Dielenberg did not challenge this, but gave evidence that the situation only came to a head when SB assaulted her and was forcibly removed from her home.
"She conceded that her personal relationship with patient SB also compromised her objectivity as a medical practitioner," the decision says.
"She told the tribunal she did not seek assistance from police or professional colleagues ... as she was too embarrassed."
Her counsel said she accepted her prescribing to SB had been "highly inappropriate".
It was submitted, however, that restrictions on her registration, preventing her handling or prescribing certain drugs, would be a proportionate response.
Dr Dielenberg's lawyers also argued it would be "draconian" to maintain the suspension of her registration when the medical board was still investigating and yet to decide whether she had engaged in professional misconduct.
But the board's counsel said the suspension was required because of factors including her "significant departures from both ethical and professional conduct".
The tribunal ultimately found conditions on Dr Dielenberg's registration would not adequately protect the public, noting she was a seasoned doctor who had not just suffered "a momentary lapse of judgement".
Its members said they believed the doctor posed "a serious risk to persons" and that immediate action was warranted.
"Importantly, no evidence has been presented to give the tribunal some confidence that the practitioner has taken steps to try to remedy the issues of concern," the tribunal said.
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