The Australian

Doctor register to prevent new 'butcher' cases

Justine Ferrari | March 03, 2008

A NATIONAL system of registration for doctors is being finalised by federal, state and territory governments, which will help prevent cases such as that of Jayant Patel in Queensland and the "Butcher of Bega" in NSW.

Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon yesterday said the Council of Australian Governments was expected to sign off soon on a national registration system for health professionals.

"It will make a difference to ensure high standards across the whole country," she said on ABC television. "It's no solace to the people who are victims of the treatment for now but it needs to be proceeded with."

The current system for registration of health professionals is done by medical boards in each state and territory. The COAG proposal is to replace this with a national process overseen by nine separate boards for all the different health professions.

Ms Roxon's comments were made in relation to the so-called Butcher of Bega, deregistered former doctor Graeme Stephen Reeves, who allegedly performed unnecessary and sometimes horrific gynaecological procedures at Bega and Pambula hospitals on the NSW south coast over several months in 2002.

Mr Reeves was struck off the medical register in 2004 after the NSW Medical Board belatedly realised he had been evading a previous restriction barring him from performing obstetric services, which was imposed in 1997 following the death of a patient.

The board maintains Mr Reeves was able to dodge the restriction because he moved from Sydney to take up a new post in Bega and at the time legislation prevented the board from passing on details of the ban to his new employer.

It follows the case of surgeon Jayant Patel, who was linked to 17 deaths during his two years as director of surgery at Bundaberg Hospital in Queensland. The state's health authorities failed to check the record of Dr Patel, who had been restricted and struck off for incompetence and deceit in Oregon and New York states.

The decision by the NSW Government to legislate mandatory reporting by doctors of their colleagues in cases of gross misconduct was welcomed yesterday by Lorraine Long, founder of the Medical Errors Action Group, which blew the whistle on Mr Reeves. Ms Long said while the move towards national registration was a step in the right direction, an inquiry was still required into the failure of health authorities to take action, including the Health Care Complaints Commission, the Medical Board, the area health services that run the hospitals and NSW Health.

She had received about 870 emails from women allegedly mistreated by Mr Reeves. Some said he gave them hysterectomies without their knowledge.

On the Nine Network's Sunday program yesterday, Ms Long told of women who had had babies delivered by caesarean sections by Mr Reeves and who found later their womb had been removed.

Ms Long said it was the worst example of malpractice she had seen and "the authorities should be in jail".

A spokeswoman for NSW Health Minister Reba Meagher said there was no need for a separate inquiry. The HCCC was "looking into the complaints and what action has or hasn't been taken over the past few years".

Australian Medical Association federal president Rosanna Capolingua said the proposed national registration would be too bureaucratic, not allowing for a quick response.