Nurses hid their patients from 'Doctor Death'

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The Independent Online

His own colleagues called him "Doctor Death", and nurses were so alarmed by Jayant Patel's surgical blunders that they hid patients from him as he stalked the wards in search of people to operate upon.

His own colleagues called him "Doctor Death", and nurses were so alarmed by Jayant Patel's surgical blunders that they hid patients from him as he stalked the wards in search of people to operate upon.

But warnings about Dr Patel, linked with the deaths of 87 patients at an Australian hospital, went unheeded for nearly two years. As the allegations of lethal ineptitude mounted, health authorities helped the Indian-born surgeon to flee the country, buying him a one-way business-class ticket to the US.

Horror stories about Dr Patel's tour of duty at Queensland's Bundaberg Base Hospital have emerged at a public inquiry in Brisbane, which heard that he amputated the leg of a diabetic Aboriginal woman and then "forgot about her". When she was discovered six days later, she was semi-comatose and the stump of her leg was gangrenous.

Dr Patel, 55, was recruited in 2003 and promoted to be the hospital's director of surgery, despite a record of disciplinary action against him in the US. In New York State, his licence was revoked in 2001 because of gross negligence, while restrictions were also placed on him in Oregon. The inquiry has heard that Queensland health authorities never checked his qualifications or references.

Dr Patel boasted he could perform any type of surgery. But staff claim he repeatedly punctured vital organs and tampered with patient notes to conceal his incompetence. The hospital's director of medicine, Dr Peter Miach, allegedly saw him carry out coronary surgery on a man who was "moaning and screaming" because he was not anaesthetised.

Toni Hoffman, a senior nurse who blew the whistle on Dr Patel, told the inquiry that patient after patient died of complications after undergoing unnecessary or inappropriate procedures. One man died of internal bleeding after Dr Patel stabbed him 50 times with a large needle in an attempt to drain fluid from a sac around his heart. A scan had already shown that there was no fluid there, Ms Hoffman said, but "he decided he was going to do it anyway".

When Ms Hoffman raised her concerns with administrators, they took her to task for a personality clash. Dr Miach received similarly short shrift from the head of medical services, Darren Keating. Dr Keating wrote Dr Patel a glowing letter of thanks when he resigned and left the country.

It is not known whether Dr Patel is still in the US. He has not commented on the allegations against him.

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