Former addict anaesthetist loses licence appeal

By Sophia McCaughan
Updated July 10 2024 - 6:10pm, first published 6:05pm
Gerrit Reimers has failed in his latest bid to overturn a ban 24 years after a patient's death. (Laura Friezer/AAP PHOTOS)
Gerrit Reimers has failed in his latest bid to overturn a ban 24 years after a patient's death. (Laura Friezer/AAP PHOTOS)

A former anaesthetist who took patients' drugs and contributed to a cancer patient's death has failed in a bid to have his specialist licence reinstated.

Gerrit Reimers was found guilty of professional misconduct by the NSW Medical Tribunal in 2003 after the death of woman under his care three years earlier.

Twenty-four hours before an operation at Sydney's Ryde Hospital, he had taken powerful opioids such as fentanyl.

Shirley Byrne died during the procedure, during which Reimers failed to notice she had stopped breathing.

He became the first NSW doctor to be charged with the death of a patient, but he was acquitted in 2001 of Ms Byrne's manslaughter.

In its 2003 decision, the tribunal ordered that he be removed from the register of medical practitioners for at least a decade.

The now-60-year-old lost an appeal in 2012 before launching another bid in 2018 before NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal to have his general medical licence reinstated.

That appeal was successful, but his licence was subject to 28 conditions including "completing an observership in a teaching hospital supervised by an experienced medical practitioner".

Reimers could only go back to practising medicine in a clinical practice if the Medical Council of NSW verified his compliance with the training.

However, in 2020 he appealed to the Medical Tribunal to have that condition overruled and was successful in that appeal, due to the difficulty he was having finding an employer willing to take on the responsibility.

In January 2023, the former drug addict applied for specialist registration in anaesthesia, but was unsuccessful as he provided no supporting documentation and still had not begun training in a clinical setting.

In an attempt to overrule the 2023 and 2018 decisions, Reimers applied to the Court of Appeal to have his specialist anaesthesia licence reinstated.

On Wednesday, the appeal judges handed down their decision upholding the ban on his specialist licence after failing to show any progress in his attempt to be retrained.

"(Reimers) had not practised at all for two decades and had given no explanation for that and no account of the training and supervision which he would be subject to if he were permitted to practise on some restricted basis," Justice Mark Leeming said in the judgment.

The court ruled that the NCAT decision in 2018 was correct and the ban on his specialist licence should remain in place.

Reimers has also been ordered to pay costs for the appeal.

Australian Associated Press