Doctor escapes sanctions by moving overseas

A doctor who accepted $150,000 from an eccentric dying patient has escaped sanctions by moving to Australia.

Dr Jonathan Graham Wright was found to have breached professional and ethical standards when he accepted the money from terminal cancer sufferer Cornelis Soeters, 81.

His son, Paul Soeters, 46, who uncovered the secret payment, said it "doesn't seem right" that the doctor - who also has two previous stains on his professional record - was able to avoid restrictions because he had moved to Queensland before the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal ruling.

Wright, from Christchurch, was suspended for six months from April this year, and ordered to be supervised for two years afterwards, with further restrictions including completing an ethics course. He was also fined $7500 plus costs.

However, the tribunal ruling is only valid in New Zealand, and does not affect Wright's ability to practise in Cairns, where he moved in 2012.

"I'm not trying to ruin the man's livelihood or anything, but that just didn't seem right at all," Paul Soeters said.

In evidence to the tribunal, Wright said he had informed his current employer of the disciplinary action.

No complaints had been laid against him in Australia, the tribunal said, and its decision would be passed to its Australian counterpart. It is then up to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency whether to impose sanctions.

Cornelis Soeters was given weeks to live after a cancer diagnosis in October 2011.

The "stubborn" and eccentric bachelor cashed in shares, donating $100,000 to the Fred Hollows Foundation and transferring $150,000 into an account in Wright's name to spend on the health needs of the local community.

Wright said his patient had been adamant he accept the money, and keep it secret. However, Soeters' son discovered bank documents detailing the transaction shortly before his death.

The family were "relieved" by the decision, Paul Soeters said, but felt "a doctor should be above" pressure from a patient to accept such sums.

"The fine, the outcome, is not as important as the fact that it was noted and that he won't do it again. That's more important to me ... so that people are aware that this does happen.

"The population is ageing and there's more and more people in that situation, you want to think that the professionals you deal with are professional ... they should be beyond any sort of wrong-doing or suspicion," he said.

The tribunal also heard Wright had a previous conviction for claiming false expenses of $18,300 while working with the Accident Compensation Corporation. Wright was also censured and fined for over-prescribing diet pills to a patient in 1998. 

- By Patrice Dougan of APNZ