A number doctors possibly facing criminal charges over patient harm or death have already faced disciplinary action or have been stopped from practicing medicine in Queensland.
Though charges against six medical practitioners referred to police are yet to be laid, a spokesman for Health Minister Lawrence Springborg said some had already been dealt with by authorities, including the Queencland Civil Administration Tribunal.
But calls for a Royal Commission into the matter were unlikely to be satisfied, the spokesman said.
“Steps have already been taken in practically each case,” he said. “These have been well discussed cases, and there have been ongoing negotiations with the [Australian Health Practitioner Agency] and QCAT in regards to the matters – the concern over criminal behaviour has taken it to the next level and it’s now a matter for the police to deal with these doctors.”
However the names of the doctors could not be revealed, nor could the specifics of their 24 alleged offences – 11 of which relate to one doctor alone – for privacy reasons, he said.
Such details were contained in a schedule compiled by criminal law specialist and former crown prosecutor Jeffrey Hunter SC whose inquiry into a whistle-blower’s complaints last year about gross malpractice resulted in the doctors’ referrals.
The schedule was attached to a letter from Mr Hunter released in redacted form by Mr Springborg’s office on Sunday along with a statement that confirmed the police investigation and foreshadowed changes to complaints legislation.
Police Commissioner Ian Stewart was unavailable for comment yesterday, but it is understood police received notice about Mr Hunter’s findings as early as March 6, when the CEO of Australian Health Practitioner Agency Martin Fletcher wrote a letter offering to assist with the investigation.
Concerns about possible criminal activity in the state’s health sector were initially raised when former medical board investigator turned whistleblower Jo Barber gave the Crime and Misconduct Commission the names of 18 doctors she says might have maimed or killed patients in May last year.
At the time, Ms Baber said many of the doctors were still practising despite being “recklessly incompetent” to the point of gross patient negligence and death.
Ms Barber said Sunday that she was surprised only six doctors were referred given the amount of information she provided, including details about a doctor who “deliberately killed many times”, others with alcohol or drug addictions, and one who repeatedly botched cosmetic surgery procedures.
“That’s only the tip of the iceberg,” Ms Barber said. “[There was evidence of] dangerous surgery which saw women’s faces and breast rot off, because untrained doctors – who wanted to make lots of money – watched some Youtube films and decided to have a crack.”
She said only a Royal Commission could “uncover the truth, and bring about reform of our sick and corrupted health care system”.
In relation to the likelihood the matter will spur legislative change over how malpractice allegations are handled, medical negligence lawyer Sarah Atkinson said any move towards law changes would help increase patient safety.
‘‘This is also important for medical practitioners,’’ the Maurice Blackburn lawyer said.
‘‘The majority of health staff do a very good job, but it’s essential that systems to protect patients are as strong as possible to ensure that those putting patients at unnecessary risk are identified as quickly as possible.’’
As recently as November last year, QCAT handed down a decision supporting sanctions on an 88 year-old doctor operating in Northern Queensland who bungled prescriptions, failed to properly diagnose patients, and failed to document his consultations.
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