Dr Death scandal reveals flawed system


Inquiry praises NUM, condemns Health bureaucrats

The Queensland inquiry into the trail of death left by Dr Jayant Patel has recommended the surgeon’s direct superiors in Bundaberg face criminal charges.

However it is unlikely Patel, believed to be in hiding in the United States, will be brought to justice any time soon.

The inquiry found that Patel’s lack of care contributed to at least 13 deaths. It recommended he be charged with manslaughter, grievous bodily harm, assault, negligence and fraud.

The state Police Commissioner, Bob Atkinson, said that police were grappling with the size and complexity of the case and still have not yet applied to extradite Patel from the United States.

The Queensland Public Hospitals Commission of Inquiry recommended that the Director of Medical Services at Bundaberg Base Hospital, Darren Keating, and the Bundaberg District Health Manager, Peter Leck, be prosecuted by Queensland’s Crime and Misconduct Commission for official misconduct.

The inquiry’s chairman, Geoff Davies, criticised the two men, who succeeded in shutting down the original Morris inquiry into Patel via a legal challenge, for being careless or incompetent in failing to act on complaints against Patel.

The Beattie Government, already under pressure to fix a crumbling health system, was criticised by the inquiry for concealing the extent of hospital waiting lists. The Queensland Health Minister resigned from Cabinet over the scandal.

A statement by Premier Beattie, in which he spoke of his government’s openness and accountability, was ‘incon-sistent with the facts’, the inquiry found.

Mr Davies said the scandal might never have been revealed and acted upon had it not been for the efforts of three people.

The most important of these was ‘whistleblower’ Ms Toni Hoffman, the NUM of the Intensive Care Unit. ‘It was her courage and persistence which, in the face of inaction and even resistance, brought the scandalous conduct of Dr Patel to light,’ he said.

Mr Davies also praised National Party MP Rob Messenger who raised Ms Hoffman’s complaints in Parliament and reporter Hedley Thomas of The Courier-Mail who investigated the scandal and first publicly revealed Dr Patel’s ‘discreditable past’ in the United States.

Mr Davies said the history of Bundaberg Base Hospital showed ‘a gradual deterioration of what was once an efficient, safe hospital providing reasonable care to one which was inefficient, unsafe and incapable of providing reasonable care.’

He said Patel’s registration and appointment occurred through ‘a chapter of negligent mistakes’ by the Medical Board and hospital administrators.

Indian-born Patel held a restricted licence issued in the US State of Oregon. The restriction was imposed upon him as a disciplinary measure. He also had been forced to surrender his New York licence fol-lowing disciplinary proceedings against him.

Both the Medical Board and Queensland Health failed to check the credentials Patel submitted. And Leck and Keating failed to have Patel assessed by a committee of his peers as required by Queensland Health policy and guidelines.

In Patel’s 24 months at Bundaberg, staff or patients made over 20 complaints about him. It was ‘a gross dereliction of duty’ by Leck and Keating not to have investigated these complaints.

Mr Davies said Leck and Keating ‘saw themselves as running a business of providing hospital services…Patient care and safety was not a relevant factor.’

‘They were not solely at fault for this for that is how Queensland Health officers also saw their role. Indeed, the terminology used was that Queensland Health was “purchasing medical services” from the hospitals and that patients were “consumers” of these services.’

Mr Davies said the hospital budget contributed to the scandal in two ways.

Leck and Keating saw Patel as a considerable asset because without the high number of operations he performed, the hospital would not have been able to achieve its elective surgery target as dictated by the budget.

And the budget was too low to afford a surgeon with Australian specialist qualifications who would normally fill the position of director of surgery.