A Saint John doctor, who is now facing nine charges of sexual assault, can no longer see any female patients anywhere.
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of New Brunswick has imposed a temporary restriction on Dr. Alan Cockeram's medical licence, prohibiting him from treating any women at his private office in the city's north end.
The executive of the regulatory body for doctors decided during a conference call on Thursday "it would be in the public interest," while the matter is before the courts, said registrar Dr. Ed Schollenberg.
Cockeram, a 60-year-old gastroenterologist, was notified of the decision by a faxed letter, he said.
Medicare has also been notified. "The theory being doctors won’t do things if they’re not going to be paid for them," said Schollenberg.
If Cockeram were to breach the college's restriction by trying to bill Medicare for seeing a female patient at his office at 560 Main St., he would be penalized, Schollenberg said.
"It would be like driving while suspended, gets you into further trouble," he said.
The college's decision comes on the heels of the Horizon Health Network announcing Wednesday night that it had stripped Cockeram of his privileges to treat female patients at any of its facilities.
The restrictions against Cockeram, will remain in effect for an "undetermined amount of time," according to a statement issued by the regional health authority.
Cockeram, who has been working in the Saint John area for more than 25 years, has elected to be tried by judge and jury on the nine counts of sexual assault, which date back as far as 1987. A preliminary inquiry will be held on June 17.
Patients will be treated
Meanwhile, authorities will have to figure out how to deal with Cockeram's female patients, who may have been waiting to see him for some time, or may be scheduled for serious procedures, such as cancer-related tests, where early detection is key.
Horizon will "work with affected patients to manage their referral," spokeswoman Carol Cottrill stated in an email.
"If a patient has an immediate concern about their referral, they should contact their family physician directly," she said.
Cottrill could not say how long patients are currently waiting to see a gastroenterologist, but said those figures may be available by Friday.
There are three other gastroenterologists in the Saint John area as well as others across the province, according to the College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Some of Cockeram's patients may also be dealt with by general surgeons, said Schollenberg.
"From what we gather, anything that has any urgency to it can be dealt with without a great deal of delay," he said.
"Other patients may have some level of inconvenience, but at the end of the day, it’s just felt this was the best way to go."
Ensuring patient safety
Although Cockeram is not an employee of Horizon and the alleged offences occurred at his private practice in the city’s north end, "we believe it is important that the public is aware of the situation and feel we have taken the appropriate measures to ensure patient safety," the statement says.
Horizon issued the brief statement after learning eight new charges were laid against Cockeram in provincial court on Tuesday.
He was already facing one charge, which was laid last summer.
At that time, "safety measures were implemented to ensure Dr. Cockeram did not treat any female patients without another staff member in attendance," the Horizon statement says.
The College of Physicians and Surgeons has received complaints from at least six of Cockeram’s female patients regarding "unnecessary or inappropriate examination," said Schollenberg.
It's unclear whether the nature of the charges before the courts are the same as the complaints filed with the college.
Reached at his office on Wednesday, Cockeram declined to comment.
None of the allegations have been proven in court. If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison.
Cockeram has been licensed to practise in New Brunswick since 1984. He obtained his medical degree from the University of Calgary in 1979.