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Doctor in Netherlands is jailed for three years for “medically irresponsible” treatment of patients

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.g1570 (Published 14 February 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g1570
  1. Tony Sheldon
  1. 1Utrecht

In one of the longest criminal investigations in Dutch medical history a former neurologist, Ernst Jansen Steur, has been jailed for three years for harming his patients. This was the first case in the Netherlands of a doctor receiving an unconditional prison sentence for medical malpractice.

From 2009 to 2012 the public prosecution service investigated 40 of Steur’s former patients. Unknown to the prosecutors, Steur was at that time working as a doctor in Germany after being sacked by a Dutch hospital in 2003. As he had voluntarily withdrawn from the Dutch medical register, there was no disciplinary record (BMJ 2013;346:f219, doi:10.1136/bmj.f219).

This week a court in Overijssel ruled that Steur had given incorrect diagnoses to eight patients and treated them in a “medically irresponsible” way. The court said that this was a serious violation of his duty of care as a doctor and medical consultant and amounted to “intentionally harming his patients’ health,” causing considerable physical damage and, in one case, leading to suicide.

It added that Steur “as a doctor knew that specific diagnoses could not be made based on the information available. Therefore he consciously took risks and accepted that the health of his patients would be seriously harmed.” His diagnoses of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s were described by expert witnesses as “slovenly” and “incoherent.”

Steur gave one patient an incorrect diagnosis, “categorically” asserting that she had two deadly diseases, and he then systematically ignored contrary evidence over a long period. The court accepted that the patient had committed suicide because she believed that she was terminally ill.

The court heard that Steur was for some time addicted to prescription drugs, including benzodiazepine, and that he had a narcissistic personality disorder, but the court deemed him responsible for his actions. He was also found guilty of stealing and falsifying prescriptions and embezzling research funds. In sentencing, the court took into account Steur’s age (68) and his years of media vilification, during which he had been dubbed “Dr Frankenstein.”

Johan Legemaate, professor in health law at Amsterdam University, explained that intent in this case was meant in the sense of “conditional intent,” where Steur should have realised that he was taking serious risks.

In December the regional disciplinary board in Zwolle ruled that Steur should never be allowed back on the Dutch medical register.

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g1570

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