In a case that has been described as 'unprecedented' in the history of medical negligence, a man is being tried for allegedly carrying out medical procedures despite being diagnosed with a potentially fatal disease.
A court in Melbourne held a committal hearing on December 6 to receive evidence about how a former anesthetist who tested positive for hepatitis C was able to continue in his profession.
Previous proceedings heard that the medical professional may have been "using and sharing intravenously administered anaesthetic drugs with his surgical patients" while knowingly infected with the disease.
On May 16 2011 the Victorian Department of Health announced that it had completed its investigations into a number of cases of the disease in a 'lookback' operation known in conjunction with state police.
Known as Taskforce Clays, the unit was able to use genetic sequencing to determine that a number of hepatitis infections were all drawn from the same source.
During the course of the operation nearly 5,000 former patients were contacted for testing – with the health department identifying 49 individuals who yielded positive results for the virus.
Investigators were able to deliver police with enough information for officers to arrest the anesthetists they suspected as being the initial carrier.
While the practitioner was known to operate out of a number of venues across the state the positive results only came from one institution – a private clinic in Croyden
Victoria’s chief health officer Dr John Carn was quick to alleviate the concerns of other patients not contacted by the department.
Carn asserted: "It is important to stress there has not been any hepatitis C risk to anyone undergoing surgery at any of these [other] facilities."
Police charged the anesthetist on May 27 with 54 counts of conduct endangering life, 54 counts of recklessly causing injury and 54 counts of negligence causing serious injury – and there may be additional breaches included as investigations continue.
In addition it is understood that a number of former patients have come together to form a class action and are now suing the former practitioner, the clinic and the state health department for damages – most likely with the assistance of a team of medical negligence lawyers.
The compensation gained from a successful trial could go some way towards covering any costs associated with the victims' ongoing medical needs as they have their infection treated.
While the initial costs associated with a medical negligence lawsuit may seem prohibitive, a no win no fee law firm can help to remove this barrier by offering the initial consultations that allow clients to explore their legal options before launching a claim.