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Nurses Hid Patients from 'Dr. E. coli' to Save Them


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Nurses at Australian hospital hid patients from 'Dr. E. coli'

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - A hearing is underway in Australia looking into the deaths of dozens of patients linked to a doctor who was previously barred from performing surgery in the United States.

The Morris Commission in the state of Queensland is examining how Dr. Jayant Patel managed to go unchecked for almost two years while he worked at the Bundaberg Base Hospital, 360 kilometres north of Brisbane.

Patel is linked to at least 87 deaths out of the 1,202 patients he treated between 2003 to early 2005 at the rural hospital.

"I was left with open wounds for possibly four to six weeks," former patient Doris Hillier told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in a radio interview.

Hillier counts herself lucky to be alive. Patel diagnosed her rash as a simple bruise.

Patel was educated in India and completed his residency in New York state. In 1984, he was cited by New York health officials for failing to examine patients before surgery. Authorities ordered him to surrender his licence in April 2001.

He also worked for Kaiser Permanante Hospital in Portland, Ore., which banned him from doing certain types of operations such as liver and pancreatic surgeries. The Oregon Board of Medical Examiners made his restriction statewide in September 2000.

Patel submitted four letters of recommendation from Kaiser colleagues, written on hospital stationary, in order to gain the job in Australia. His former colleagues are now refusing to comment.

"Kaiser Permanente never approved or released these letters and did not then and does not now endorse the documents," said Jim Gersbach, spokesperson for the hospital in a statement. Gersbach says those were personal letters and not professional ones.

Because of his reputation at the Bundaberg hospital, nurses told the inquiry they started hiding patients from him to prevent him from operating. Nurses also testified they called him "Dr. E. coli" because many of his patients came down with infections.

Former patients have filed a class action lawsuit but the doctor has yet to be charged.

Hospital paid for $2,265 US ticket back to America

Patel's case has created an uproar in Australia over the regulation of foreign doctors. The Australian Medical Association recently directed state and territory governments to overhaul their screening of overseas doctors in light of Patel's case.

The 56-year-old doctor is believed to be back in Portland, Ore., where he owns a home. He managed to get the hospital to pay for a $2,265 US ticket back to America in April, just as questions were being raised about his competency.

The commission has learned hospital officials acted illegally when they appointed Patel as head of surgery in late 2003. Patel had been authorized to operate but only under supervision.

Peter Leck, the health authority's district manager in Queensland, has admitted he didn't check Patel's qualifications, claiming it was the job of the hospital's director of medical services, Dr. Darren Keating.

Leck also ignored warnings raised by Toni Hoffman, the nurse in charge of intensive care, in October 2004.

Hoffman testified Patel often boasted about his experience in doing different types of complicated surgeries, from trauma to heart operations. She said he also bullied junior doctors and nurses, blaming them for anything that went wrong.

"I would be hard pressed to go back to that hospital unless I was on my death bed," Ian Fleming told the ABC in a radio interview.

Patel operated on Fleming for a digestive disorder. Fleming said his stomach started to swell soon after and he couldn't eat or walk. One night, as he sat on the couch, he said his incision blew out, exposing his infected insides.

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