SYDNEY: Australian authorities finalised arrangements on Thursday for an inquiry into a surgeon dubbed “Doctor Death”, whose alleged incompetence has been blamed for least 20 patient fatalities.
Queensland state premier Peter Beattie named a top barrister to head a commission of inquiry into Jayant Patel, the Indian-born doctor who fled Australia last month after nurses raised concerns about his abilities.
Patel, 55, who trained in India and practised in the United States before becoming chief surgeon at the Bundaburg Base Hospital, is accused of bungling numerous operations, failing to scrub up before operations and falsifying death certificates to avoid autopsies into his deceased patients.
Patients have detailed a number of botched procedures by Patel, including an elderly man who had a syringe left in his stomach, a woman whose urethra was accidentally severed and a 28-year-old man left impotent after the surgeon operated on him.
Nurses at the hospital have blamed him for at least 20 deaths.
Since his departure, it has emerged Patel had been found guilty of gross misconduct by medical authorities in the US state of Oregon but covered up the fact when he was appointed to the Australian hospital in 2003.
The case has caused an outcry in Queensland and led to a review of the qualifications of the state’s 1,700 overseas-trained doctors.
The commission of inquiry, which will have the power to compel witnesses to give evidence, will examine how Patel was appointed, how he was allowed to practise for so long and what can be done to prevent a repeat of the situation.
It will be headed by barrister Tony Morris, who will be assisted by former state health minister Llew Edwards and senior nurse Margaret Vider.
No date was set for the inquiry’s completion.
The Queensland state government has pledged to cover the cost of corrective surgery and provide counselling for Patel’s surviving patients.
Patel is believed to have fled to India. Australian authorities have said they will seek his extradition if enough evidence is gathered to lay charges against him.