Sick to Death
A manipulative surgeon and a health system in crisis - a disaster waiting to happen
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They called him Dr Death. A 15-year-old boy's leg had to be amputated as a result of his poor judgement. He botched a procedure on a young man, leaving him impotent and urinating through his rectum - and with a 30cm surgical clamp embedded in his abdomen. Undeterred by the atrocities he was causing, Dr Death continued to deceive the patients who trusted him to fix their pain. At least 17 people in his care did not survive.
Dr Jayant Patel's reign at Bundaberg Base Hospital lasted two years. A life-threatening combination of the doctor's manipulative personality and a culture of concealment in politics and medicine meant that the surgeon's incompetence went unchallenged by Queensland authorities, despite the fact that Dr Patel had previously been banned from surgical practice in the United States.
But a courageous nurse blew the whistle, taking the appalling story of a sick health system to a leading journalist and a state parliamentarian. Their combined efforts forced two powerful enquiries. This is a true story of deceit, tragedy and heroism, one that forces us to question our very faith in this country's medical system.
Hedley Thomas won a 2005 Walkley Award for unveiling the truth about Dr Patel. Toni Hoffman's efforts have been lauded on many levels including a Local Hero Award in the 2006 Australian of the Year honours.
- Allen & Unwin, February 2007
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