An Adelaide surgeon who made more than $52,000 in fraudulent claims — some of which related to an “entirely fictitious” patient — has avoided jail but been ordered to pay the money back.

James Ian Spark previously pleaded guilty to seven deception charges and a charge of attempting to deceive, committed in 2017 and 2018.

The 59-year-old today appeared for sentencing in the Adelaide Magistrates Court, which heard that one of the charges involved claims relating to a patient subsequently revealed not to exist.

“I have regarded [this charge] as the most serious due to the inclusion of an entirely fictitious patient, Ms Smith,” Magistrate Ben Sale said.

“All of the offences were committed against Shared Services, which is taxpayer-funded.”

Spark, a former head of vascular surgery at Flinders Medical Centre who held a professorship, was also ordered to pay back more than $52,000 in restitution.

He was originally charged with 25 counts of deception after a probe by the state’s Independent Commissioner Against Corruption (ICAC).

Magistrate Sale said an apology from Spark in March acknowledged a “gross error of judgement”, but that he did not confront the dishonesty of his offences.

“The words used by you to describe your crimes are illustrative: ‘entering false information’, ‘gross error of judgement’ and ‘serious mistake’,” he said.

“These all fall short of confronting the fact that the false entries, errors of judgement and serious mistakes were made deliberately in dishonesty with a view to deceiving taxpayers and obtaining benefit.”

Spark (right) was handed a suspended sentence but has been ordered to pay the money back.(ABC News: Sophie Holder)

Magistrate Sale said there were no written submissions from the defence to explain why the offences were committed.

The court heard part of the explanation was Spark’s “sense of entitlement”, which was fuelled by contributions he made to the hospital and the Flinders University where he was also a professor of surgery.

“It is a shame that you have not explored this warping of your perception in greater depth and taken steps to ensure you never again allow your ego to overwhelm your integrity,” Magistrate Sale said.

Spark was handed a 10-month sentence suspended, and a good-behaviour bond was imposed.

The court heard that Spark’s medical registration was “highly likely” to be suspended pending further investigation by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA), and that it was “inevitable” that the case would go before the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (SACAT).

Medical board ‘monitoring’ legal proceedings

A 2022 decision by SACAT means Spark cannot perform surgery to treat Nutcracker Syndrome, a rare vein condition, following the death of a young women who developed complications after he operated on her in November 2019.

Spark was also limited in performing surgery on “any visceral branches of the abdominal aorta, or structures affecting these branches; or venous tributaries joining the inferior vena cava” without supervision, after he performed a left ovarian vein coiling surgery on a 68-year-old woman without her specific consent.

A spokesperson from AHPRA said the agency was unable to comment on notifications relating to individual practitioners, except to the extent that information is in the public domain.

“However, we can confirm that the Medical Board of Australia has been actively monitoring legal proceedings and is now considering whether action needs to be taken in light of today’s sentence,” they said.