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18

NOVEMBER, 2014

Hospital cover ups
Drug addicted health professionals
Uninformed patients

4 Corners exposes cover ups, cocaine and damaged patients

This is why we have independent media. To publish information that is in the public interest. And few secrets are as unpleasant as those kept hidden by the powerful health bureaucracy.

A recent 4 corners program revealed that a surgeon with known drug addiction was allowed to continually operate on patients, despite posing a severe risk. He was finally kicked out of public hospitals, only to continue practising neurosurgery while high on cocaine, in a private hospital.

And the only reason this doctor was finally stopped? Not because AHPRA put public safety above professional secrets. Not because the vast array of well funded health departments stepped in to safeguard the public. Not even because private health insurance companies demanded quality for their long suffering, fee paying customers.

But because a second woman died on a drug binge while with this doctor, and the police charged him with murder.

This story will come as no surprise to those who are familiar with Australia’s resistance towards healthcare transparency and reform.

Badly performing health professionals and substandard hospitals are repeatedly allowed to admit and treat patients. Meanwhile patients have little access to information about prior complaints, higher than average error rates or Coroner’s recommendations.

A four year report into the error rates of different private hospitals is being kept from the public, despite private insurers trying to convince both sides of politics it was in the public interest to see this data.

Medico-legal firms hear a large amount of complaints from patients and relatives enquiring about legal action.

Medicare keeps a store of data about error prone public hospitals and the investigations into substandard or fraudulent health professionals.

Non of this information is made public. Sick patients are denied basic information about the cost and quality of medical treatments. Meanwhile health care has grown into the largest employer in Australia.

Does this secrecy worry politicians who collect lifetime annuities and excessive superannuation packages?

Apparently not.

When Dr Armitage took his extensive report on private hospitals to both sides of parliament, saying it should be released in the public interest, neither side of politics was prepared to support him.

The drug addicted anaesthetist who infected scores of women with hepatitis C after injecting himself with their pethidine had a long history of drug and alcohol abuse. Once again AHPRA and the health bureaucracy knew all about his dangerous behaviour. Did his patients have the same information? No.

I spoke to a nurse who worked with this doctor over a decade ago. She reported him to the theatre management and was told ‘forget it’.

In America, this topic has more airtime and is covered in public debate.

In Australia, we cover up,  burying the simple facts that some health professionals should not be qualified to practice.

And while patients are kept in the dark, hospitals, the bureaucracy and insurance companies all know the truth. Hospital errors are not an aberrant occurrence, a one in a million problem or just bad luck. They are a silent epidemic.

And they are a direct result of secrecy about error rates, failure to tie hospital payments to their performance, and refusal of politicians stand up to the powerful health lobby and implement much needed reform.

© Wikihospitals 2014