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Somerset-based vet removed from Register for stealing controlled drugs
19 December 2019
The RCVS Disciplinary Committee has directed the Registrar to remove a Somerset-based veterinary surgeon from the Register after he was found guilty of stealing ketamine and methadone from a practice.
The hearing for Mark Kombert took place on Wednesday 11 December 2019 in relation to his stealing the controlled drugs between 5 and 17 November 2018. Prior to the start of the hearing, the RCVS received correspondence from Mr Kombert confirming that he did not intend to attend the hearing, either in person or via a video-link, nor did he intend to send legal representation in his stead.
In light of this the Committee, which was chaired by Dr Martin Whiting, decided to proceed with the hearing in the absence of Mr Kombert and any legal representation, on the basis that it was in the public interest and the interests of justice to proceed and that Mr Kombert had been given the opportunity to attend or be represented.
In relation to the facts of the case, the Committee heard that staff at the practice where Mr Kombert was working as a locum, had, on 12 November 2018, undertaken a check of the medicines kept in the practice’s controlled drugs cabinet and discovered that 5.5ml of ketamine and 1.5ml of methadone was missing. After the code to the controlled drugs cabinet was changed, Mr Kombert was observed taking an additional 3ml of methadone, which he then administered to himself while on duty at the practice.
“The respondent’s conduct was dishonest; it constituted both a breach of trust and an abuse of his position with regards to access to veterinary medicines; it risked animal welfare and jeopardised the reputation of colleagues. It fell far short of the conduct expected of a member of the profession and amounts to disgraceful conduct in a professional respect,” Dr Martin Whiting, chairing the Committee
After Mr Kombert was confronted with the evidence, he was given the details of the Vetlife charity for support and asked not to return to the practice. The police were also contacted and, on 4 January 2019, Mr Kombert was arrested and interviewed, receiving a police caution for theft on 25 January 2019 with conditions that he should attend and complete a drug-use awareness course, and should engage in a restorative justice process, which involved attending the practice to discuss his offences. At this meeting, on 22 April 2019, Mr Kombert admitted stealing the drugs and administering them to himself while on duty, which meant he was not in a fit state to see patients. He apologised for his actions and the matter was then also reported to the RCVS.
In relation to the fact that Mr Kombert had accepted the police caution, made the admissions at the restorative justice meeting and had emailed the RCVS apologising for his actions, the facts of the case were found proven.
The Committee then went on to consider if Mr Kombert’s actions amounted to disgraceful conduct in a professional respect (henceforth called ‘serious professional misconduct’), something which Mr Kombert had admitted to in correspondence with the RCVS.
The Committee found that Mr Kombert’s actions did amount to serious professional misconduct. Dr Martin Whiting, chairing the Committee and speaking on its behalf, said: “The respondent’s conduct was dishonest; it constituted both a breach of trust and an abuse of his position with regards to access to veterinary medicines; it risked animal welfare and jeopardised the reputation of colleagues. It fell far short of the conduct expected of a member of the profession and amounts to disgraceful conduct in a professional respect.”
The Committee then considered what the appropriate sanction against Mr Kombert should be, taking into account both aggravating and mitigating factors.
In terms of aggravating factors, the Committee took into account the risk of harm to animals, his dishonesty, the premeditated nature of the misconduct, the breach of trust and the fact it was repeated.
It also took into account three previous matters recorded against Mr Kombert in the United States of America. These were: a letter of admonition from the Colorado State Board of Veterinary Medicine for practising when his licence had expired; a stipulation order from the same body in which he agreed to relinquish his licence in that state following an allegation that he took controlled substances from a veterinary practice and self-administered them; and a criminal conviction in New York State for obtaining an opioid controlled drug by deception, for which he was sentenced to three years’ probation. The Committee was made aware of the New York State criminal conviction after Dianne Norris, a Probation Officer based in that state, had contacted the RCVS after hearing about the inquiry and informed the College that Mr Kombert was in breach of his probation conditions.
“The respondent has failed to uphold the requisite standards to be expected of him on multiple occasions. The Committee considers that the only sanction that is sufficient to protect the welfare of animals, maintain public confidence in the profession and declare and uphold proper standards of conduct is one of erasure,” Dr Martin Whiting
Dr Whiting commented: “The Committee has considered the witness statement of Ms Dianne Norris, a probation officer employed by Putnam County Probation in New York, who was responsible for supervising the respondent as part of his probation. Ms Norris explained that the respondent breached his probation on numerous occasions, which took place from November 2017 to 2018…. As a result of the breaches, Ms Norris required the respondent to increase his attendance at support groups to an inpatient treatment program for 28 days from 13 July 2018. He failed to attend.
“Ms Norris explained that warrants were issued for the respondent’s arrest…. The Committee noted that the conduct of the respondent in relation to obtaining controlled drugs from his employers for his own use while in the United States of America was similar to his conduct … [described in] the charges.”
In mitigation the Committee considered that Mr Kombert had consistently admitted the charges against him as well as accepting and agreeing with the evidence against him.
However, the Committee decided that, in light of the seriousness of his misconduct, including dishonesty and risk of serious harm to animals, that removal from the Register was the most appropriate and proportionate sanction.
Summing up, Dr Whiting said: “The respondent has failed to uphold the requisite standards to be expected of him on multiple occasions. The Committee considers that the only sanction that is sufficient to protect the welfare of animals, maintain public confidence in the profession and declare and uphold proper standards of conduct is one of erasure.”
Mr Kombert has 28 days from being informed of the outcome of the hearing in which to make an appeal to the Privy Council.
The full facts and findings from the case can be found on the Disciplinary Committee hearings webpage.