Belfast Telegraph

GP avoids jail after faking prescriptions to feed his pill addiction

By Paul Higgins

A GP who fed his addiction to sedatives and painkillers with false prescriptions has beens spared a jail sentence.

Thomas Egerton's two-year jail term was suspended for two years at Downpatrick Crown Court yesterday.

Judge Piers Grant told Egerton he had been "effectively struck off" as a result of his crimes.

"You have lost your career and that has serious consequences for both yourself and your family", the judge told Egerton. He added that while he will have "great difficulty" in returning to medical practice, "you have your future in your own hands".

At an earlier hearing Egerton (57), from Station Road, Holywood, pleaded guilty to each of the 29 charges against him.

The GP, who described himself as a "functioning addict", was once a senior partner in a clinic before turning to locum shifts.

He confessed to one count of fraud by abusing his position as a doctor; two charges of fraud by false representation; three of possessing class A prescription drugs; 18 charges of possessing class C prescription drugs, and five counts relating to breaches of procedures in writing prescriptions. All offences occurred on various dates between June 11, 2009, and October 31, 2014.

Opening the facts of the case last January, prosecuting lawyer Jim Johnston outlined how Egerton's offences came to light in October 2014 when a concerned pharmacist alerted the authorities, which led to the GP handing himself in and "making full admissions during interviews".

He told the court that "for the immediate treatment of patients" GPs routinely kept supplies of regularly used medications, "colloquially referred to as 'being in the doctors' bag'".

Summarising Egerton's offending, Mr Johnston said the GP filled out the required forms and obtained prescriptions from various pharmacies, including chemists in Ards, Bangor, Lisburn, Killyleagh and Downpatrick.

"Normally such drugs would have been retained in the doctor's bag until they were needed, but he self-medicated these prescriptions," said Mr Johnston.

He added that during his confessional interviews the GP said he had been a "functioning addict for some time" and was ashamed of his actions.

Describing how he was in a "terrible state mentally", the 57-year-old openly conceded he had "foolishly administered these to myself to deal with the stress I was under" and that it was "completely out of order".

Mr Johnston said that while there had been immediate confessions, his offences were aggravated by several features. These included the fact that, as a doctor, he was in a "privileged position" but had committed a "significant abuse and breach of the trust" put in him by the authorities and his patients "to obtain large quantities of dangerous drugs".

During an impassioned plea in mitigation, defence counsel Ivor McAteer told the court that becoming a doctor "wasn't necessarily his choice, but that of family expectation".

He said in many ways it turned out to be the right choice, because from all the testimonials and reports "it's clear that he was and is an excellent doctor who acted above and beyond the call of duty on many occasions".

He revealed that in addition to work pressures, the defendant "was juggling" further stress at home as he ministered to his dying brother and his wife became ill, on top of his activities with a charity and a church. Passing sentence, Judge Grant said it was clear the defendant "had made significant efforts to deal" with his addictions.

Nevertheless, the judge said his offending was a "significant breach of trust" as clearly, "he was in a privileged position to gain access" to the prescriptions.

In mitigation, he said Egerton had made "full and frank admissions" from the very start, had pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity and that the prescriptions were for his own use.

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