Law to catch dodgy doctors
By Linda Silmalis
March 02, 2008 12:00am, Sunday Telegraph
DOCTORS will be required by law to dob in their dodgy colleagues in an attempt to prevent a repeat of the Butcher of Bega.
The Sunday Telegraph can reveal the State Government will amend the Medical Practice Amendment Bill, which is already before parliament, to accommodate mandatory reporting in NSW hospitals.
The move follows the stories of hundreds of women about deregistered former doctor, Graeme Reeves, who is alleged to have mutilated them while practising at Bega and Pambula on the NSW South Coast.
The legislation will mean doctors will be required by law to report on their colleagues if they suspect their peers of having: committed sexual abuse; engaged in drug or alcohol abuse, or
engaged in gross misconduct .
NSW Health Minister Reba Meagher said it was clear the laws needed changing.
"I think the community wants more assurance that if a doctor is suspected of gross negligence or serious misconduct they will be reported and they will face the consequences,'' she said.
"Serious matters need to be brought to light and they need to be investigated. This is why we will create a legal obligation to ensure this happens.''
Ms Meagher said the bill would also force the professional disciplinary bodies such as the NSW Medical Board, the Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) and the NSW Medical Tribunal to take into account a doctor's history of complaints when determining what prosecution and disciplinary decisions were necessary.
Under existing laws, the individual bodies focused on resolving individual complaints rather than looking at a doctor's history.
"We have seen recently that cases arise where a doctor has been subject to a number of complaints going back over many years, complaints which show a pattern of poor standards or inappropriate conduct,'' Ms Meagher said.
"The current legislation focuses on resolution and investigation of complaints on a one by one, case by case, basis rather than looking at a pattern of poor standards or inappropriate conduct.''
The bill would also make it easier for the NSW Medical Board to immediately suspend the registration of a doctor if it was believed a person's life was in danger.
Dr Reeves is alleged to have performed unnecessary and sometimes horrific gynaecological procedures over several months in 2002. Five of Dr Reeves' alleged victims visited NSW Parliament House last week to question why he was able to practise, despite a ban.
Ms Meagher has hinted at the State Government compensating the women if it was proven there had been a failing in the system. However, the State Government would first await the completion of the police inquiry, she said.
Since Friday, the HCCC has received 12 phone calls and four written complaints from women who had been patients of Dr Reeves. The complaints were in addition to 27 received over the past few years.
Ms Meagher apologised to the women who had come forward, and praised them for their courage.
"To the women who have come forward, I commend you for your courage and I am sorry to all of you for the awful experiences you suffered at the hands of someone who acted so despicably,'' Ms Meagher said.
Liberal MP for Bega Andrew Constance said the State Government had yet to explain to the women how Dr Reeves had come to be employed.
Mr Constance, who called for an urgent investigation into Dr Reeves in a speech to parliament made in September last year, said he had been approached by nine women with allegations of negligence against Dr Reeves, including three on Friday.
"I would have liked to have seen an independent inquiry into this issue to find out what the bureaucrats knew,'' he said.
"The women who have bravely come forward on this issue just want answers and to see some sort of justice.''
A telephone counselling and support service has been established by NSW Health to support former patients of Dr Reeves.
The State Government has also instructed NSW Health to ensure any medical negligence claims are promptly evaluated prior to the commencement of any formal legal proceedings.