Surgeon faces life for 'botched' ops

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The Independent Online

An American doctor accused of repeatedly botching operations and performing procedures that were beyond his capability has pleaded not guilty in an Australian court to three manslaughter charges and one of grievous bodily harm.

Families of those claiming to have suffered because of Dr. Jayant Patel's procedures welcomed yesterday's start of the trial as moving justice a step closer, five years after an Australian government inquiry found the surgeon may have contributed to patient deaths.

Indian-born surgeon Jayant Patel's trial at Brisbane Supreme Court is expected to include testimony from some 90 witnesses and last up to six weeks. It comes more than 25 years after questions were first raised about his competency.

Patel, 59, has not spoken publicly about the charges, which relate to four patients he treated while working as director of surgery between 2003 and 2005 at a state-run hospital in Bundaberg, a sugar industry town 230 miles north of Brisbane in Queensland state.

He faces a possible sentence of life in prison if convicted.

Prosecutor Ross Martin delivered a lengthy opening statement largely focused on the death of one patient, 76-year-old Mervyn John Morris. Morris died two weeks after Patel removed his lower bowel in May 2003.

Martin's speech was packed with complex medical terminology, hospital charts and constant references to doctors' short-form notations, indicating the trial is likely to be a complicated one.

But Martin was also at times blunt when it came to explaining Patel's role.

"He was the wrong doctor to do the operation ... the wrong patient ... the wrong preparation was done ... the wrong hospital to do this operation (and) he got the wrong postoperative care," Martin said.

Patel has faced complaints about his competency since the early 1980s, when he practiced in the US. In 1984, he was fined by New York health officials and placed on probation for three years for failing to examine patients before surgery.

He later worked at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Portland, Oregon. Kaiser banned him from liver and pancreatic surgeries in 1998 after reviewing 79 complaints about Patel. The Oregon Board of Medical Examiners later cited him for "gross or repeated acts of negligence."

The doctor arrived to a media throng about 15 minutes before the start of his trial with his wife, Kishoree, holding his hand. Flanked by his defence team, he refused to answer questions from dozens of reporters. The case has received enormous media attention throughout Australia.

Patel is charged with the manslaughter of Morris, James Edward Phillips and Gerry Kemps, and the grievous bodily harm of Ian Rodney Vowles.