Murupara GP Dr Bernard Conlon is practising again after being suspended by the Medical Council of New Zealand for the past four months.
Conlon has been offering GP services to the remote Murupara, Minginui and Ruatahuna communities for more than 30 years, including the sort of 24/7 on-call service that most New Zealanders would associate with days gone by.
He was suspended from practising medicine in early February while the council investigated his conduct.
The Medical Council has now renewed his license to practise and the public register shows that he is able to practise without restrictions from May 20 until August 31 of this year.
Neither Conlon nor the Medical Council was forthcoming to Local Democracy Reporting as to how this arrangement had come about. In a communication through the Murupara Community Board's newsletter, Conlon said he had been able to achieve "a negotiated settlement" with the council.
"The community, unfortunately, has suffered a marked reduction in service delivery over the past six months. We look forward to addressing the backlog of issues over the next few months," the newsletter states.
Whakatāne district councillor for the Murupara ward Alison Silcock said the Murupara community was overjoyed at Conlon's return.
"We really were jumping for joy, and that would have been just about everyone, even those who weren't totally happy with his options. We are very pleased that he is able to practice again," Silcock said.
The investigation came about after complaints were made to the council about questions he asked in public around informed consent for children and pregnant women to receive the Pfizer vaccine.
He has also been accused of promoting anti-vaccination views on the Murupara Medical Centre's Facebook page, referring to the Pfizer vaccine as a "gene therapy injection".
A junior doctor he was supervising wrote to Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins describing Conlon celebrating the fact that Murupara had the lowest immunisation rates in the country.
At the time he was suspended he had been restricted to carrying out consultations via Telehealth due to not being immunised against Covid-19.
Because of his recent recovery from Covid-19, he had received a three-month exemption from the Covid-19 order and was able to practice. His wife, Dr Britta Noske, who was also restricted to seeing patients through Telehealth, was reportedly also able to see patients in person.
As of May 30, service at the Murupara Medical Centre had reopened five days a week along with full on-call services, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Ruatahuna and Minginui will receive monthly Saturday visits from Conlon, in addition to their weekly telehealth service.
Medical Council chairman Dr Curtis Walker said in a written statement that the council stepped in as early as possible when a notification was made, or information came to light, to put in place any necessary arrangements if it considered that the doctor posed a risk of harm to the public, or if an interim measure was appropriate pending an investigation.
"All investigations are carried out by a Professional Conduct Committee and this is a separate independent body to the Medical Council. It is the committee, which determines whether or not charges will be laid with the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal.
"The tribunal hears and determines disciplinary proceedings brought against health practitioners, including deciding what sanctions should be put in place. There are a number of statutory processes and complexities which can affect the length of time when matters can become public," Walker said.
"We can confirm that a Professional Conduct Committee is undertaking an investigation into Dr Conlon's conduct. We are unable to release further information on matters until all investigation and decision-making processes have concluded."
Conlon was also currently awaiting a ruling from a case he filed in the Rotorua District Court over Medsafe's seizure of a shipment of ivermectin he had ordered from overseas.
Pem Bird, principal of Murupara Māori immersion school Te Kura Kaupapa Motuhake o Tawhiuau, had been one of most vocal supporters of Conlon who he described as "a trusted, loyal friend".
"He would be hard to beat in his service to our area. He has given us 30 years of faithful, dedicated service. We regard him as one of us.
"We have great respect for his capability as a doctor, for his longstanding devotion to meeting our needs as part of this community. He attends events at this kura and the marae and is learning whaikorero on the marae, along with waiata and haka.
"He'll come calling on patients after work, in his own time."
He said his wife had health problems and was just one example of patients that received this service. There were others in the community who had experienced the same level of treatment.
He said Conlon's suspension had left the community bereft of medical care.
"We had no doctors at one stage there. Just a couple of nurses. The expectation that we would get by without health care, without a doctor … I think there's something gravely amiss with the Medical Council.
"I mean, we were still going to have sick people, we were still going to have gravely ill, terminal people, and depriving us of Dr Conlon and his team, that was a harsh blow, and I would say, over the top. We've come through a very tough time. So, we're grateful for having services restored. Though it's for a finite time."
- Diane McCarthy, RDP
- Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air