New report highlights potential medical negligence cases

Date: Feb 16, 2017

The Productivity Commission has released a new report highlighting failings across public hospitals in Australia, with some of the cases potentially leading to medical negligence claims.

According to the report, there were nearly 100 ‘sentinel events’ throughout the country’s states and territories during 2014-15. This term refers to incidents where a care provider’s system or process inefficiencies result in death or serious harm to patients.

NSW had more than double the number of sentinel events of any other state or territory at 50, while Victoria was second with 19. Queensland’s public hospitals reported 10.

Examples of sentinel events include medication errors leading to patient deaths, operations on the wrong person or body part resulting in injury or death, and leaving surgical instruments inside a patient during surgery.

Medical negligence claims

While the report didn’t contain information on the outcomes of sentinel events, it is likely that some individuals pursued medical negligence claims against their health care provider.

ABC News spoke to Mark Beilby, a patient at Redcliffe Hospital, who was the victim of a sentinel event in 2013. He underwent an operation to remove an epigastric hernia, which is when fat pushes through a hole in the abdomen wall and creates a lump.

However, Mr Beilby had two hernias five centimetres away from each other and the surgeons operated on the wrong hernia – one that wasn’t giving him problems.

“It’s beyond belief that somebody could sit there and pick up a scalpel and start cutting away without having the rest of the surgical theatre team on board with them at the same time,” he stated. “I’ve walked away, many other people don’t.”

Making a medical negligence claim in NSW

While Mr Beilby’s surgery occurred in Queensland, NSW patients can pursue medical negligence claims if they feel their doctor or another medical practitioner failed in their duty of care to a patient.

Last year, the NSW Auditor-General’s annual report for 2016 showed there were 47 sentinel events across 2014-15. However, Labour Health Spokesman Walt Secord told the Sydney Morning Herald in December that the government should reveal the particulars of each case.

“Patients deserve to know that when they undergo a procedure that medical instruments are not left inside of them. The community has a right to know where these mistakes occurred,” Mr Secord stated.

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