Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Your bureaucrats will protect you -- again

A PURPORTED doctor working in a Queensland regional hospital will be sacked by health authorities after investigations found she was not medically qualified. Another person from the same intake of foreign workers has already been dismissed for failing to properly understand English. The credentials and background of the two were not checked by hospital or regulatory managers before they were employed, stunning the Queensland Medical Board and senior Queensland Health officials 18 months after the devastating scandal over foreign-trained surgeon Jayant Patel.

The two wore stethoscopes, conducted physical examinations and were held out to patients as doctors. Their work was meant to have been as observers under full-time supervision, but sources say this was not always the case because of busy periods and a shortage of staff.

One of the employees, who remains suspended from Cairns Base Hospital pending the exhaustion of rights of appeal, had used a public health qualification from a Shanghai college to pass herself off as a clinically trained junior doctor in her final year of training. She was paid more than $1200 a week as a doctor intern and student observer, watching and dealing with patients over several months, until March. The woman could not demonstrate knowledge of medical or clinical care, sources told The Australian yesterday.

The other employee hired during the Beattie Government's continuing campaign to overcome a chronic medical manpower shortage is believed to have had clinical training, but could not communicate in English to an acceptable standard.

Their status was discovered after a reminder was sent to hospital bosses to ensure staff were properly vetted and registered. The hospital's deputy director of medical services, Ric Streathfield, has admitted he "dropped the ball" when he bypassed the medical board to employ the two on salaries of more than $61,000 a year.

A Queensland Health spokesman said they had performed no procedures and had limited contact with patients. "At no time were any patients in danger," he said. "Their employment is a localised human resources matter, not a clinical matter, and the fact it has been dealt with shows the processes of Queensland Health and the medical board are working."

The two, who worked for several months until it was realised they had not been vetted by the medical board, were employed along with two other foreign interns, one of whom remains on suspension pending further clarification of credentials. The fourth has been registered. "These characters were not let loose to do brain surgery, but they were medically examining people even though at least one had no medical training," a government source told The Australian yesterday. "The slippage of standards and the failure of checks and balances that allowed this to happen so soon after a major public inquiry into the health system is worrying. It amounts to a neglect of medical administrative duties and it has directly impacted on patients."

The Beattie Government promised a $9.7 billion funding boost and a new era of openness and transparency in the aftermath of the public inquiries arising from the damage wreaked by Indian- and US-trained surgeon Dr Patel. His deadly incompetence in the US had resulted in Dr Patel being barred from performing surgery, but neither the Medical Board nor Queensland Health checked his background before he became Bundaberg Hospital's director of surgery. Dr Patel is to be extradited from his US home in Portland, Oregon, to Queensland to face multiple charges of manslaughter, grievous bodily harm and fraud arising from his two years at Bundaberg Hospital.


"Human Rights" stupidity

In another outstanding victory for the civil rights lobby, two HIV-positive men in Victoria and South Australia were permitted to run wild by health officials, passing on their infection to as many sexual partners as they could, because their right to privacy was deemed paramount. What is apparent from the court appearances of both men is that senior health authorities in Victoria and SA made a value judgment between the lethal activities of their clients and the risk they posed to the community and appear to have preferred to protect the men's privacy even though their behaviour risked the health of their sexual conquests, possibly numbering more than 100.

Although a psychiatrist who examined Michael Neal, the Melbourne man accused of deliberately spreading HIV, warned the Victorian Department of Human Services three years ago Neal was the "most evil man I have seen in 20 years" who "enjoys infecting men with HIV", police were not notified. Neal was committed on March 29 to stand trial on 106 charges including intentionally spreading HIV, attempting to intentionally spread a very serious disease, rape and child pornography. He reserved his plea.

During his committal hearing, Melbourne Magistrates Court was told the health department had been contacted nine times in four years by doctors and concerned gay men who alleged the 48-year-old was intent on "breeding" the deadly disease. But even though Neal had told the DHS during his first meeting with its officers that he was having unprotected sex with many men and only sometimes disclosed his HIV status, police were not notified of the case until February last year.

Neal, who wore a genital attachment knowing it would cause bleeding during intercourse, increasing the chances of HIV transmission, told nurses his sex life was his own and he had no intention of following their orders to stop having unprotected sex. According to a witness at Neal's committal hearing, Neal hosted a "conversion party" at which a 15-year-old boy was injected with methamphetamine and "bred" (infected with HIV) by about 15 HIV-positive men who had sex with him.

Instead of notifying police of his activities, the health officers went through a four-stage process with Neal, first offering him counselling, education and support, then referring the allegations against him to an internal HIV advisory panel, then issuing a letter of warning and finally issuing orders that restricted Neal's sexual behaviour and required him to make contact with a department officer each day. When Neal was told he must either disclose his HIV status to his partners or wear a condom, Neal demanded the department pay for Viagra "due to his erectile dysfunction when using condoms", the court was told.

The matter was referred to Melbourne's sexual crimes squad in February last year although a full year earlier a former partner had told authorities Neal was boasting of infecting people with HIV and claimed to have infected "approximately 75 people and remained in a relationship with them until they tested positive". Even then, health officials refused to hand over files to the police and they had to subpoena medical notes and compel the doctors to give evidence against Neal in court.

In the South Australian case, health officials were warned two years go that Stuart McDonald was knowingly spreading HIV. McDonald may have deliberately infected as many as a dozen men with the disease since moving to Adelaide about eight years ago but it was not until last month that he was ordered to take a psychiatric examination and stop having unprotected sex and advertising for sex on the internet.

While doctor-patient confidentiality must be protected, it should not take precedence over the greater public good. This is where the civil rights lobby loses the plot every time - from defending the right of alleged terrorists to have protected communications, to the right of indigenous men to brutalise women and children in the name of traditional culture. In living memory, sufferers of infectious diseases such as typhoid, yellow fever and tuberculosis have been quarantined to reduce the risk of infection to the wider community. Past generations protected themselves against infection by taking the appropriate precautions available at the time - our generation must do the same.


We should be so ethical

QUEENSLAND shillyshallied for ages before finally charging a police officer with the manslaughter of a drunken Aboriginal man on Palm Island. Now the state's bouncers have been urged to aspire to the ethics of the police force. In the run-up to the introduction of new laws aimed at ridding the state's security industry of brutish behaviour, Queensland Premier Peter Beattie said it was essential bouncers followed the example set by police officers.

"One of the things bouncers have got to learn is the ethics that exists in the police service," Beattie told reporters in Brisbane yesterday. "The police service has very extensive powers and they are well equipped, but they're well trained. If we've got our police service that know how to use force within appropriate bounds to protect the community well, we are not going to allow bouncers to get outside the same bounds."


"Healthy" school menus help Maccas most of all

Pity about the parents trying to raise funds via heavily regulated tuckshops

HEALTHY canteen menus forced on to NSW schools to fight obesity are being openly snubbed as students order in pizzas, sell bootlegged Coke and leave school grounds to eat at fast-food outlets. A Daily Telegraph investigation has revealed students are resisting the low-fat menus - and private canteen operators are battling to survive with higher labour and ingredient costs. Canteen bosses estimate their revenue is dropping by up to a third as students take their business elsewhere.

Pizza, Chinese takeaway and other fast-food deliveries to school playgrounds are becoming commonplace as students tire of salads, wraps and low-fat pies and diet soft drinks to order in lunch on their mobile phones.

Last Wednesday at Granville South High School at 1pm a pizza delivery man was photographed in action outside the front footpath preparing to make a delivery of two family-sized pizzas. Nearby Villawood Domino's Pizza manager Mohammed Ahsan said his business did make deliveries to Granville South and other schools in the area. "We have a policy not to refuse a delivery to anyone," Mr Ahsan said.

Government and most private schools began phasing in the NSW Healthy School Canteen Strategy in 2003 following a childhood obesity summit. Last year alone more than $600,000 was spent implementing and promoting the scheme to convince schools to speed up compliance. This year all sugar soft drinks were banned. Under the dietary guidelines, "red" foods such as salty snacks and fatty foods are limited to two days per school term. Canteens are supposed to fill the menu with "green" foods such as wraps. "Amber" foods like low-fat pies should be used sparingly.

Also at 1pm last Wednesday, Engadine High students in uniform were dining out at Engadine McDonald's. The senior students, who were happy to be photographed, were not breaking school rules by being there. They said canteen food was "expensive" and not always appetising.

Duncan's Catering boss Duncan Irvine, operator of 38 public high school canteens, said the healthy foods policy was "naive". "The most profitable business to own now is a corner store near a school - they are now getting all our business," he said.


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