Supreme Court of SA extends optometrist's disqualification period following Board appeal

01 Jun 2021

The Supreme Court of South Australia has extended the disqualification period imposed on former Adelaide optometrist Ashok Bhoola from one to five years after he changed the results of patient sight tests without clinical justification more than 400 times.

The decision followed the Optometry Board of Australia’s appeal against an earlier South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (the tribunal) ruling in August 2020. The tribunal disqualified Mr Bhoola from applying for registration as an optometrist for 12 months, ordered he be reprimanded and pay the Board’s costs after it found his actions amounted to professional misconduct.

It heard that between February 2015 and January 2016, Mr Bhoola used his log in credentials to change patient records entered by another optometrist 410 times. The sight tests, known as optical prescriptions or scripts, involved measurements used in prescriptions for glasses.

Due to his actions, 313 sets of glasses manufactured for patients 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 per cent of glasses were later returned to the practice by customers, compared to a usual return rate of four to five per cent.

The glasses had to be remade at the store’s cost, and the optometrist whose records were changed lost confidence in their work as a result of Mr Bhoola’s actions.

Investigation by a forensic accountant revealed Mr Bhoola’s log in credentials were used to access the patient records and changes could not have been made by the optometrist making the original entries. Mr Bhoola was the only other person present at the practice on all the occasions when the alterations to patient records were made. Mr Bhoola denied altering the records. He was suspended from the optometry practice in February 2016 and his partnership in the business was later terminated.

The Board filed its appeal in September 2020, with the Supreme Court setting aside the tribunal’s decision on 11 May 2021. It found 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. In its judgment, the Supreme Court extended Mr Bhoola’s disqualification period from applying to be a registered optometrist from one year to five years, dated from 5 August 2020.

Board Chair Ian Bluntish welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision.

‘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,’ he said.

Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (Ahpra) CEO Martin Fletcher said the decision demonstrated Ahpra and the National Boards’ commitment to protecting the public.

‘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.

Anyone who has a concern or complaint about a registered health practitioner is encouraged to call Ahpra on 1300 419 195 or visit our website.

 The Supreme Court’s decision is available on the AustLII website.

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Page reviewed 1/06/2021