National 9 News

Hundreds of complaints about Butcher of Bega ignored

Friday Feb 29 18:00 AEDT

By Ross Coulthart

As many as 200 victims of the 'Butcher of Bega' claim serious allegations they made about his alleged malpractice were ignored by the government’s health watchdogs.

The women sought help through the Medical Error Action Group (MEAG) website after stories about Dr Graeme Reeve's alleged mutilation of female patients were aired on the Sunday program.

They claim appeals to the Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC), the Medical Board, Area Health Services, the Health Department and local MPs were all ignored.

The shocking claims will be aired in a follow-up report on the Sunday program this weekend.

Some of the nearly 500 individual complaints flooding into the MEAG since Sunday first broke the scandal two weeks ago include allegations that women were sterilised by Reeves without their consent.

Lorraine Long, who heads MEAG, said that some women later discovered their wombs had been removed without their consent.

"Months after seeing Dr Reeves, [one patient] went back to her doctor and said 'oh, I haven’t had my periods and we want to have another baby'," she told Sunday.

"So she went to a fertility clinic where they did an ultrasound and told her ‘you don’t have a womb'."

Ms Long branded the Butcher of Bega scandal as "the worst medical disaster in Australian history".

She claims many of the complaints she received were ignored by government health watchdogs — even when the victims offered information and evidence.

"More people have said they complained than not: words they are using are that they made a complaint to the HCCC and what a waste of time it was," Ms Long said.

The HCCC is meant to be NSW's top health system watchdog but Ms Long accuses it of not doing its job, saying some of its replies to complainants had been "grossly insensitive".

"In a couple of the emails I received, someone from the Complaints Commission in NSW told the woman to go and have her hair done, she might ‘feel better’ ... and she was the one who was sexually mutilated," she says.

On Wednesday Ms Long met with representatives of the NSW Police Sex Crime squad, who have already begun investigating information provided to them directly by women alleging they were assaulted or mutilated by Reeves.

Sunday was also contacted this week by women who offered police statements and hospital documents.

"The police are clearly taking these allegations very seriously indeed and I am quite confident they are serious about investigating them," Ms Long said.

She added that in light of the new evidence that so many people had complained previously, the question was why Reeves was never referred to police for investigation before now.

"I just find it absolutely astounding that this has taken so long to get out into the public … someone must know something besides me and they‘ve sat on it," Ms Long said.

"It's almost been like there's been a conspiracy of silence."

Ms Long said the MEAG first heard of concerns about Reeves as far back as 1996 when he was working at Sydney's Hornsby Hospital.

That was the year a young woman died after Reeves failed to provide antibiotics to her, although she was clearly suffering an easily treatable post-natal infection.

Subsequent official investigations had found the mother of three died a completely avoidable death because of his negligence.

During its investigations, Sunday spoke to the father of the woman who died: he told how at the subsequent Medical Tribunal hearing into this and other patient deaths and complications, it was made clear to them that at least 14 victims had complained about Reeves.

In light of Reeves' failures with his daughter, the victim’s father told Sunday he could not understand why Reeves was allowed to continue to practice after his Medical Tribunal hearing in 1998.

Ms Long said that in light of this evidence and the clear theme from many of the new complainants, it was obvious many independent government agencies were alerted and did nothing.

"If my group heard about it then that means the authorities knew about it," she said…

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