HQCC yet to investigate doctor for turning off life support
THE body investigating breaches in Queensland's health system says it has not looked into an allegation a Gold Coast doctor turned off a patient's life support system against her wishes.
Health Quality and Complaints Commission (HQCC) adjunct professor Russell Stitz told ABC Radio on Thursday morning the panel could not investigate the allegation until it received a formal complaint about the issue.
"It's not something that we are aware of so we can't say anything more than that because we haven't had a complaint made about that particular issue," Professor Stitz said.
The allegation was first raised late last month by Joanne Barber, a former senior investigator for the Medical Board of Queensland.
She provided the Crime and Misconduct Commission with documents saying she believed a doctor on the Gold Coast had turned off a patient's life support "without her permission and actually against her wishes and she died".
"That doctor is still working on the Gold Coast," Ms Barber told the ABC last month.
However, she has not taken the matter to the HQCC because she believes the system still has a culture of protecting doctors.
"In my view the medical board was dysfunctional... their decisions were often made in favour of doctors rather than looking at the matter and thinking of patient safety in the future," she told the ABC, saying that she found similar systemic failure when she left the board to work for Ethical Standards.
"There was evidence, information that was being dealt with in a certain way to ensure that it went away," she said.
"They are very serious allegations, but they are true."
However, Professor Stitz said the investigative process had been "dramatically improved" since the Jayant Patel scandal.
Patel was sentenced to seven years' jail in July 2010 after he was found guilty of manslaughter relating to the deaths of three patients at the Bundaberg hospital and the grievous bodily harm of another.
The Indian-trained doctor had not told authorities when he applied to work in Queensland that he had been found guilty of gross negligence in the US.
"I think you have to realise that in this country we're privileged to have very well-trained, highly capable doctors and our systems are equal to any in the world," Professor Stitz said.
"The number of doctors that don't perform adequately is extremely small, but we do need to have an appropriate process in place to protect the public.
"The medical board is designed to do that, the HQCC is designed to do that, and we do that to the best of our ability.
"It's as good a system as anywhere in the world (and) it may not be perfect but patently we need to use it appropriately."
Professor Stitz's comments came two days after the HQCC released a report that identified 30 breaches in verifying doctors' credentials and five breaches relating to the registration of doctors between June 2010 and September last year.