A Gold Coast woman jailed for treating patients while pretending to be a registered nurse has lost an appeal against her sentence.
Sonya Maree Whitestyles was sentenced in Southport District Court on 4 October to three counts of fraud committed between December 2018 and November 2021, when she held herself out as a registered nurse while operating a medical clinic with a partner, who was a registered nurse practitioner.
On the first charge Whitestyles was sentenced to 19 months’ imprisonment suspended after three months for an operational period of three years, and three months imprisonment on each of the other two charges, and three years’ probation.
In the Brisbane Supreme Court on Friday, Justices Mullins, Flanagan and Williams heard and refused the appeal against her sentence.
Whitestyles, who had pleaded guilty to all charges, appealed on the grounds:
1. The sentence was manifestly excessive in all the circumstances.
2. The sentencing judge erred in placing too much emphasis on Section 9(2)(c) of the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 (Qld).
3. The sentencing judge erred in failing to have regard to s 9(2)(a) of the Act or alternatively in failing to have sufficient regard to s 9(2)(a) of the Act in imposing a sentence of actual imprisonment.
4. The sentencing judge erred in not recognising that Whitestyles’ mental illness reduced utility in imposing a deterrent sentence and that a sentence involving actual imprisonment would weigh more heavily on her.
The court was told Whitestyles advised and treated six patients at the Burleigh Heads clinic, charging them $8695. She had referred the patients for blood tests, reviewed blood test results, recommended treatment plans and administered vitamin injections and intravenous infusions or directed others to do so.
Whitestyles also recruited two doctors for the practice, with one authorising 36 prescriptions and the other 1245 prescriptions, after Whitestyles indicated to them she had reviewed patients and proposed certain prescriptions.
The court was also told of Whitestyles’ criminal history of defrauding Medicare of more than $10,000 between 2016 and 2018, while she worked in an administrative role at a medical clinic. She was subject to a two-year good behaviour bond imposed for this offending when she was sentenced earlier this month.
The three judges ruled Whitestyles could not succeed on any grounds of the appeal, and refused her application.
“The sentencing judge expressly acknowledged that the seriousness of the applicant’s offending, the need for general deterrence and specific deterrence, community protection, denunciation and the nature of the applicant’s conduct had to be balanced against the factors in favour of the applicant including the matters of mitigation that were identified in the sentencing remarks,” Justice Mullins said.
“The sentencing judge identified ‘an extra level of criminality’ which was of a serious kind in the applicant holding herself out to be a qualified nurse which she was not which went beyond the sums of money involved in the fraud,” she said.
“Having regard to the applicant’s age, the period over which counts 1-3 were committed and the nature of the offending, particularly in relation to count 1 that involved treatment of six members of the public over almost three years, the applicant cannot show that sentences which involved an actual custodial component of three months were manifestly excessive.”