Patients, not practitioners, need protection

PATIENTS need to be put back to the centre of the medical system in Australia.

It might seem to be self-evident that patient care is the point at which health delivery revolves, but the growing scandal over how thousands of Australian women were implanted with pelvic mesh devices for more than a decade has shown how far we have strayed from this ideal.

The history of how regulators have responded to women’s complaints about former University of Newcastle associate professor Richard Reid – as documented in the Newcastle Herald for nearly three years – provides evidence of the gap between public expectations of patient safety and how regulators view public protection.

The most recent example of that gap occurs in how the NSW Medical Council monitored Dr Reid from 2011 following complaints by women linked to pelvic mesh surgery.

Conditions placed over his practice after those complaints included one relating to how he obtained valid informed consent from women for the surgery he carried out. It also included a condition requiring Dr Reid to submit a surgical log of each procedure he carried out to the Medical Council every three months.

By 2011 the Medical Council was already well aware of Dr Reid’s “extensive complaint history” in Australia and America where he had already been suspended after serious injuries to women patients. But it was not put on notice, by that history, of any need to pay particular attention to documents supplied by Dr Reid to meet monitoring conditions.

It relied on Dr Reid to self-monitor, which is why its response to Herald questions about an apparently false referral in one of the surgical logs is of concern.

The Medical Council’s argument that because its condition only required monitoring of the “type” of surgery Dr Reid performed, and not the veracity of any other detail in the log supplied by him, falls far short of what a reasonable person would expect of a regulator under the circumstances.

Another serious question that must be asked, as a Senate inquiry prepares to hear evidence in public about the scandal of pelvic mesh in Australia, is how patients are largely unaware of a doctor’s history when they walk into a surgery door – and how little our current regulatory system assists people to find out for themselves.

Issue: 38,540.