A pipe-smoking dentist who refused to wash his hands between patients or clean used equipment said sterilisation was ‘stupid’, a hearing was told.
Published: 10:21AM GMT 19 Jan 2010
Petrus Coetzee repeatedly used the same apparatus from one patient to the next and refused to replace torn gloves, it is claimed.
When dental nurses complained about his unhygienic ways, Coetzee accused them of being disloyal, the General Dental Council heard.
After his boss criticised Coetzee’s attitude, the south African dentist resigned but asked to work a final three-month period over a series of weekend clinics.
But Coetzee was in fact stockpiling equipment from the Cosmetic Dental Studio at (49) Kingsway, Harwich, Essex and removing boxes of valuable items, the hearing was told.
When Tom Daly the head of the practice was told he set up a secret camera which allegedly caught Coetzee red-handed taking away equipment.
Lydia Barnfather, for the GDC, said: ‘There were four nurses at the studio and they will tell you that he routinely failed to replace torn gloves or wash his hands between patients.
‘He also smoked a pipe and didn’t wash his hands after smoking it and before seeing patients.
‘His wife, an orthodontic dental nurse, also assisted him and she told the other nurses that there was no need to autoclave instruments that had only come into contact with saliva.
‘He would often leave the surgery with his gloves on, go outside and smoke a pipe and return to patients.
‘He put items that had been used in patients’ mouths back into their boxes without sterilising them.
‘Dental nurses repeatedly reminded him of the need to sterilise used equipment and this need was frequently discussed at practice meetings.
‘He told the nurses that he considered the protocols for sterilisation and cross infection control as stupid, over the top and unnecessary.’
When Mr Daly brought this to Coetzee’s attention, the dentist allegedly flew into a rage, saying the other members of staff had turned against him.
Ms Barnfather went on: ‘He accused the nurses of disloyalty in complaining about him. This demonstrated his lack of understanding about the reasons for cross infection control. He said there was a lack of physical and moral support at the surgery.
‘Mr Daly said his being informed of Coetzee’s practice was not disloyalty.’
A meeting was called between Mr Daly and Coetzee in November 2005 during which the South African was advised that it would be best to leave the practise.
The barrister said before Coetzee left Mr Daly told him: ‘Staff are instructed to tell me if they have suspicions that instruments have been used on more than one patient. This is not negotiable. Im one hundred per cent responsible for the patients and my integrity will not be compromised.’
Mr Daly added that Coetzee could save his position but it was ‘one hundred per cent down to him’.
Coetzee denied allegations that he was letting infection control standards slip and handed in his notice.
It was agreed that Coetzee would work out his three-month period of resignation, provided that he stick to the practice’s protocols during his weekend clinics despite Mr Dalys concerns that nursing and receptionist staff would be harder to find outside normal hours.
‘But he was very keen to work at weekends when his wife would assist him,’ said Ms Barnfather.
Although Coetzee agreed to adhere to cross infection guidelines, nurses at the practice soon realised he was still not washing his hands or sterilising equipment, it is claimed.
Mr Daly then began to gather evidence against Coetzee monitoring the use of the autoclave during the weekend clinics, said Ms Barnfather.
The first time Mr Daly checked up on the machine’s usage at the beginning of September 2006, it wasn’t turned on once over the two days.
Coetzee was seeing dozens of patients when it should have run at least twenty times, the GDC was told.
‘Mr Daly rang Coetzee at home to ask if the autoclave was working OK said Ms Barnfather.
‘Mrs Coetzee said it was working but neglected to confess that it had not been used. Perhaps that served as a reminder to Coetzee because the next weekend it was used.’
But a nurse saw Coetzee leaving the practice with a bag full of rubber gloves and other dental equipment which he then put into his car, it was said.
When Mr Daly raised the subject with Coetzee, he claimed it was a bag of model trains that had been sent to the surgery, the panel heard.
But even though Coetzee knew staff were suspicious, he allegedly carried on helping himself to practice supplies until Mr Daly decided to set up a secret camera.
‘He was seen on camera removing a box of trays from the storage area,’ said the barrister.
‘The next weekend Coetzee was again seen taking boxes away from the room and on the following Monday the boxes were no longer in the surgery.’
On September 26 2006, Mr Daly told Coetzee that he had been caught stealing and was considering reporting him to the police.
When Coetzee finally responded to the allegations in a letter at the beginning of 2007, he admitted taking the items but claimed ‘he was under the impression that they were still in a give and take relationship. This was not the position as far as Mr Daly was concerned.’
Coetzee did eventually return the majority of the goods but Mr Daly was still left reeling by the South Africans claims.
Ms Barnfather added: ‘He had no such verbal agreement, implied or otherwise that would have supported Coetzees perception that he could take items away from the practice.’
Coetzee, who worked at the studio for three years between April 2003 and 2006, denies not washing his hands between patients or after smoking a pipe.
He denies not changing gloves which had been worn outside the clinical area or putting on a new pair when others had been torn.
He also denies not autoclaving equipment and claiming the protocols for sterilisation and cross infection control were stupid, over the top and unnecessary.
But he admits taking boxes of dental equipment from the surgery, maintaining he didn’t do so dishonestly.
Coetzee denies his conduct was inappropriate, unprofessional and not in the patients’ best interests.
The dentist denies misconduct and that his fitness to practise is impaired.
The hearing continues.
Okay, I’m a pipe-smoker, and even I say, “Blegh. Gross. Disgusting. Would it have helped if it was an aromatic tobacco? Ummm…nope.”