Banned doctor gets offer of work in Taumarunui

DEFIANT: Dr Suresh Vatsyayann while living in his car last year. He wants to continue  practising  ‘‘for the good of my patients’’
DEFIANT: Dr Suresh Vatsyayann while living in his car last year. He wants to continue practising ‘‘for the good of my patients’’

Suspended Hamilton GP Suresh Vatsyayann has been thrown a potential lifeline by a Taumarunui health provider inviting him to set up as a GP in the south Waikato town.

The revelation was made yesterday at a hearing before the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal, which was ordered to revisit its decision to have the controversial GP struck off the medical register after a High Court ruling in March.

Yesterday Dr Vatsyayann, 63, told the tribunal he had received a letter from Taumarunui Community Kokiri Trust chief executive Christine Brears, inviting him back to the community where he had previously practised.

"Everyone there loves the way I worked and they want me back in their town to help where they need at least six doctors," he said. "They are deprived of healthcare - it is a predicament."

The former clinical director at the free Family Clinic in Beerescourt was struck off the medical register by the tribunal last year for enrolling patients without their consent, breaching patient privacy and allowing his unqualified wife to perform procedures such as smear tests and vaccinations. He was also ordered to pay $256,000 in costs.

Yesterday, flanked by supporters, Dr Vatsyayann defended the charges against him and made clear his wish to continue practising "for the good of my patients".

Since his suspension in 2010, Dr Vatsyayann has lived on Work and Income and Domestic Purpose Benefits. He currently lives on a Work and Income benefit of $340 a week, despite having the joint responsibility of four children under the age of 6 in his care.

The revelation was made at Novotel Tainui hotel yesterday where the hearing before five tribunal members was held. Throughout the day-long hearing, Dr Vatsyayann remained defiant over the charges he had faced.

"I do not accept fault, but I accept what was decided," he said when questioned by Rebecca Carajannis, lawyer for the Professional Conduct Committee.

In submissions Ms Carajannis said that, while the committee accepted the tribunal "must consider carefully the alternative penalties available to it short of removal", she did not believe the gravity of charges already established by warranted anything less than cancellation.

"Based on what has already been established, [Dr Vatsyayann] is not a fit and proper person to continue practising medicine," she said. "It is submitted that the only appropriate order available to the tribunal in order to protect the public and to maintain professional standards is cancellation of Dr Vatsyayann's registration."

However Dr Vatsyayann's lawyer, Alex Hope, said his client had spent the last two years "reflecting on his situation" while under suspension.

"I'm sure you see a very different man before you today," Mr Hope said. "He has absolutely nothing left: his four houses and property are gone, all his savings - gone, his medical equipment - gone, and yet still he remains as passionate as ever about his profession."

Yesterday's hearing was scheduled after Justice Priestley heard the doctor's claims at an appeal hearing at the High Court in Hamilton in March.

Justice Priestly found that, though charges Dr Vatsyayann faced had been proven to the required degree by the tribunal, he expressed "considerable unease" that Dr Vatsyayann had been struck off.

"At a broad level my unease stems from the fact that [Dr Vatsyayann], because of his stupid decision to absent himself from the tribunal's penalty hearing, did not have the opportunity to put before the tribunal appropriate mitigating factors."

Dr Vatsyayann was given that chance yesterday to be heard in respect of the penalties handed down by the tribunal. In reserving their decision late yesterday, chairman Bruce Corkill, QC, said he hoped to have the matter "resolved quickly".

"An interim order of suspension [of practice] will remain until the tribunal's penalty order is available by written decision," he said.

Waikato Times