Doctor regulation questioned after Hep C scandal

THE scope of Victoria’s hepatitis c scandal has widened with multiple threats to sue the state’s Medical Practitioners Board, a clinic and also a doctor.

At least seven women allegedly infected with hepatitis C will seek compensation from the board, anaesthetist Dr James Latham Peters and the surgery where he worked – Victoria’s only late-term abortion clinic, Croydon Day Surgery.

The medical board faces the legal action over claims it failed to protect the women, who may have been deliberately infected by Dr Peters, who had the virus.

He was suspended on February 15, two weeks after the Medical Board of Victoria was notified and two months after the health department became aware that three women who had contracted hepatitis C had been to the Croydon clinic.

Besides those three women, who are represented by law firm Slater & Gordon, 12 others were also identified last month by the Department of Human Services (DHS) as having been infected.  That number is expected to swell with the DHS confirming on Sunday it has extended the scope of its investigation from 18 months to four years.  Suzanne, 38, alleges she contracted hepatitis C after Dr Peters was involved with her termination in August last year.

After seeing a news broadcast in April, Suzanne, who had become pregnant again, was tested and found to have contracted the disease.  Already a mother of two young girls, Suzanne was so distressed she had to be sedated and waited days for a second round of test results, which showed her body had fought off the disease.

“I was just closing my eyes saying to my husband ‘wake me up from this nightmare, it’s not real is it?  This can’t be real,'” she said.  Suzanne was highly critical of the medical board, insisting that Dr Peters should not have been allowed to practise.  “They were so lenient with him it’s ridiculous,” she said.

“If they hadn’t given him his licence back, he wouldn’t have practised and it wouldn’t have happened.  Lawyer Paula Shelton said the process by which the board regulates doctors needed to be overhauled.  “I do really feel there is a fundamental conflict in protecting the community, regulating doctors and having a welfare role,” she said.

“I think that that should change.  “Regardless of whether he (Dr Peters) was aware (he had hepatitis C) or not, this could not have happened if normal infection control procedures were used.”  A medical board spokeswoman said the regulatory model was a matter for government. “Doctors who are unwell, as every other member of the community, have a right, in principle, to rehabilitation,” she said.

“The primary objective of the board’s health program is to protect the public, but with sick doctors it also balances that with the importance of restoring doctors to health so they are able to practise safely.”

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