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Queensland medical crisis « Previous | |Next »
May 25, 2005

The Queensland health system is in crisis. The suspected number of deaths at the hands of Dr. Jayant Patel (Dr Death) at Bundaberg Hospital is now estimated to be around 87 along with a further 20 cases of patients suffering complications.


Giving evidence at the commission of inquiry into the events surrounding Dr Patel's activities at the Bundaberg Hospital, Toni Hoffman, the nurse in charge of the hospital's intensive care unit, said:

"It came to a point when we discussed all of the things we'd done, all the people we'd been to and we just thought, 'What on earth can we do to stop this man?'.We'd taken to hiding patients, we'd taken to telling patients they should ask for a transfer, we were doing all sorts of things we shouldn't have been doing."

Toni Hoffman is a whistleblower nurse. It appears that the hospital administration sided with, and protected, Dr. Jayant Patel. Why did they do nothing to stop him? Aren't hospitals meant to be about saving people's lives not killing people? Why did hospital and health department management ignore the gross surgical incompetence of Dr Patel, when it was reported by staff?

The response by the Beattie Government to this medical malpractice crisis is an interesting one. It has decided to split the health department into two:--into a hospitals department and a department of primary care and health service integration. The aim is to break the traditional power bases in the state's health bureaucracy. About time this happened.

This provides the opportunity for the government to control the funding balance between health prevention and treatment. Everyone says that health prevention, or primary health care,is a good idea but it has little policy substance in Canberra. It will be interesting to see what Beattie does with it.Will health prevention continue to be the poor cousin to hospitals?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 3:25 PM | | Comments (1)


Nicholas Gruen has mentioned that health needs some kind of outcome accountability mechanism. He also mentioned that some software techniques such as unit testing and functional testing may be translatable to policy/regulation.

This is one instance where unit testing (performance) would have turned up Patel quickly. It would require far more transparency from the cpublis service, it would also require the identification of inputs and outputs that could be continually unit tested.

In the case of software, the program is developed from a set of requirements, which can be dynamic or static. In government, the equivalent of requirements (outcome) would be the policy.

In software, Unit testing is at the method/class level. It tests the logic of the code directly. In government, the equivalent would probably be the bureaucracy input/outputs.

Functional testing is the customer level testing. To that would be how the requirements match customer expectation. For a customer to sign off on a project, the requirements must be met, and having automated testing for the requirements makes it easy for the customer to sign off on it.

The other aspect of unit/functional testing in software is that it is done as often as possible and at every oppurtunity. We run our unit tests as part of the compilation process, so every time the project is built, with any new change, it runs all the unit tests.

The unit tests and functional tests are also run every night, to ensure that no modification that has been checked in during the day breaks the intended output, or the interactions between the methods/classes.

This process could have direct correlation to determining the effectiveness of government policy.