Thursday, July 31, 2008


Rogue surgeon referred to DPP

Natasha Wallace, smh

July 31, 2008 - 3:40PM

The case of the so-called Butcher of Bega has been referred by the State Government to the Director of Public Prosecutions for possible criminal charges.

It was the chief recommendation made by commissioner Peter Garling, SC, in his report into the circumstances surrounding the employment of obstetrician Graeme Reeves at two South Coast hospitals even though he was banned from the specialty in 1997.

The first of Mr Garling's reports into the public health system was handed down at 2pm today.

Mr Reeves has been accused of botched operations and the sexual assault upon hundreds of women at Bega and Pambula hospitals after he was illegally employed there in 2002.

Today, the NSW Minister for Health Reba Meagher said the Government accepted all 10 recommendations made by Mr Garling in regard to his report on the circumstances surrounding the hiring of Mr Reeves by the Greater Southern Area Health Service.

However, as yet, no health department official has been held accountable for the debacle. They were involved in hiring him.

NSW Health chief Debora Picone said two of them, Jon Mortimer and his boss, Robert Arthurson, will now come under scrutiny and whether they will be disciplined will be known within weeks.

A third, former chief health officer, Denise Robinson, resigned in May.

Mr Garling said Dr Arthurson failed to obtain any referee report in relation to Mr Reeves before appointing him in April, 2002.

He also said Dr Mortimer's referee checks were inadequate and insufficient - and said he should have contacted more than one referee.

Mr Garling said Dr Robinson, who was CEO of the health service at the time, "failed to take sufficient steps" to stop Mr Reeves from practising once she became aware of it in November, 2002.

However, Mr Garling said these findings against the three doctors had been made with the benefit of hindsight.

"I, specifically, do not find that the conduct of these individuals was unreasonable or inappropriate," his report said.

"That is because I find myself quite unable to ignore the basis of hindsight which arises by reason of my investigation and the exercise of fact finding in which I have engaged."

Professor Picone said the report highlighted that Mr Reeves had "lied and cheated his way into this job".

In regards to her executives, she said: "We'll look at the report and then meet with them as soon as possible to go through the findings ... in a very short period of time."

She confirmed that it would be known within weeks whether anyone would be punished.

Dr Mortimer was suspended on full pay in May pending the outcome of the report.

Ms Meagher said she hoped that the alleged victims of Mr Reeves would "feel encouraged by the fact" that he had been referred to the DPP.

His report found that Mr Reeves's "dishonesty was the key reason he was recruited to a position he was legally unable to fill".

It also said that there was a "deficiency in the implementation" of health department policy regarding reference checking.

The Herald revealed in May that some checks were in fact made and a diary note of April 2002, made by Dr Mortimer, since tabled in Parliament, said that Mr Reeves was "not meant to do obstetrics".

Ms Meagher ordered a review into the appointment of Mr Reeves - who has yet to be charged, despite a lengthy police investigation - and the handling of his case by the NSW Medical Board and the Health Care Complaints Commission.

Today's report was the first from Mr Garling's Special Commission of Inquiry into Acute Care Services in NSW Public Hospitals held earlier this year.

The Opposition health spokeswoman Jillian Skinner said Ms Meagher had failed to hold anyone accountable beyond Mr Reeves himself for his appointment.

"I really feel for the victims of Dr Graeme Reeves that they have no answer as to who was to blame for employing him down at Bega and Pambula hospitals that led to terrible mutilations," Mrs Skinner said.

She said she welcomed Mr Garling's recommendation to tighten up the Health Services Act 1997.

Natasha Wallace is the Herald's Health Reporter