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medical self-regulation has failed « Previous | |Next »
March 9, 2008

It bothers me that state governments do little about Medical Boards that fail to regulate the medical profession to ensure public safety and quality of care. The regulatory medical boards are simply not doing enough to protect patients from the adverse events caused by incompetent, predatory, drug-dependent and unstable doctors.

So we have the well known cases of Dr. Death at Bundaberg Base Hospital in Queensland, the "butcher of Bega"--Graeme Stephen Reeves---in NSW; and in Victoria, and the dermatologist Dr David Wee Kin Tong. In all three, the regulatory medical boards, 'the watchdogs', have failed dismally in their duty to protect the public, and they have evaded their responsibility to ensure public safety.

RobertsGreg.jpg Greg Roberts

Self regulation has long been argued by the medical profession in particular as being the preferred method of maintaining standards of care. In the case of the medical profession, this has largely been achieved through the learned medical colleges. The above examples are recent examples of the failure of medical self regulation

There is a convention in the medical culture that the medical regulatory authorities, professional colleagues and administrators overlook adverse events medical mistakes and complaints that medical practitioners were acting outside the bounds of appropriate professional conduct.The medical mistakes remain a professional matter and the medical disasters are covered them up.

As The Age editorial says in relation to the Reeves ruining the lives of scores of women by mutilating their genital organs with surgical procedures that were usually botched and often unnecessary:

But even worse than the actions of one criminally careless and dangerously deluded doctor is the fact that a brotherhood of fellow practitioners failed to stop him. In fact, it seems that the quaint, cosy system of self-regulation Australian doctors enjoy actually helped to bury the truth about the damage Reeves inflicted on women placed in his care.Other surgeons called in to attempt to repair Reeves' botched operations knew who was responsible but it appears that they — and other hospital staff — preferred to observe a code of silence of the sort usually associated with organised crime: an appalling silence that is completely at odds with the Hippocratic oath doctors swear but which too many of them seem to regard as a relic.

The editorial ends by saying that it is vital that a fearless, independent regulator has the power to investigate doctors who abuse patients' trust. On this, physicians cannot be expected to heal themselves. Governments must act.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:49 AM | | Comments (8)
Comments

Comments

Gary,
I see that the NSW Health Minister, Reba Meagher, announced yesterday that she would seek to introduce laws making it mandatory for doctors to inform on colleagues they suspected were guilty of sexual abuse, drug or alcohol abuse while practising, or of gross misconduct.

Nan,
the main professional reaction to adverse a events is reactive, protective, and inward-looking. Many think that the medical profession has been unfairly treated, especially by the media. They see themselves as victims

Gary,
I don't think government action is the answer. Government departments and health ministers have a pretty effective cone of silence themselves. The media is far better at hounding such people out of their jobs.

Gary,Nan & Lyn,
Perhaps Hospital/Area Health Boards have a role after all?

Nothing, and that includes mishaps, should be allowed to distract state government ministers from their main objectives: overseas junkets; having a bloody good time; blaming others; and, that generous pension after years of service to the community.

Len,
Area Health Boards should not be in charge of regulation. It's not their brief. They allocate health services within a budget to meed community needs---well that is the theory anyway. Regulation of health services by health professionals should be done by a national entity with strong powers and such a body should make sure the Area Health Boards are accountable.

Why is health treated so differently from aviation re public safety, when it causes more deaths?

Rumpole QC,
You are too just too mean. These people have worked so hard for the public good and given up so much of their quality family time.

They deserve a very good job as a consultant (at $500,000+ p.a) with the industry they have looked after so well whilst they were in power + the very generous pension.

Len,
Area Health Boards could certainly help consumers if they help to make make the statistical information about hospital performance public and facilitate the attempts to change the secretive culture of information in the Australian health system.