09 May 2023
An optometrist who tampered with over 400 glasses prescriptions has lost his bid to have his five-year disqualification set aside.
Mr Ashok Bhoola sought leave to appeal to South Australia’s Court of Appeal (Court of Appeal) to set aside an order made by a single Justice of the Supreme Court of South Australia (Supreme Court) to extend his disqualification period from one to five years, and an order for Mr Bhoola to pay the Board’s costs.
In May 2020, the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (the tribunal) found Mr Bhoola had engaged in professional misconduct and in August 2020 disqualified him from applying for registration as an optometrist for 12 months, starting 5 August 2020. It also ordered that he be reprimanded and pay the Optometry Board of Australia’s (the Board) costs.
The Board filed an appeal with the Supreme Court in September 2020 seeking to extend the disqualification period. The judge set aside the tribunal’s decision on 11 May 2021, stating 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. On 11 May 2021, the judge set aside the tribunal’s order disqualifying Mr Bhoola from applying for registration as an optometrist for 12 months, and extended Mr Bhoola’s disqualification period to five years.
Mr Bhoola sought leave to appeal this decision from the Court of Appeal. On 18 March 2022, the Court of Appeal granted Mr Bhoola leave to appeal in respect of two of his four grounds of appeal, but dismissed the appeal. The Court of Appeal found that ‘on review of all materials and submissions, no different sanction should be imposed.’
It stated that Mr Bhoola’s ‘conduct was a serious departure from the standards required of the profession and a substantial sanction was required to protect the public and maintain confidence in the profession.’
Mr Bhoola’s professional misconduct finding related to his tampering with glasses prescriptions between February 2015 and January 2016. It was found that Mr Bhoola had used his log-in credentials to change patient records entered by another optometrist 410 times. 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.
The judgement of the Court of Appeal can be found on the AustLII website.