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Last Updated: Friday, 22 July, 2005, 09:57 GMT 10:57 UK
Australian health official quits
Nurse Toni Hoffman
A senior nurse brought attention to Mr Patel's alleged malpractice
The health minister in the Australian state of Queensland has resigned over a scandal involving a surgeon linked to the deaths of at least eight patients.

Gordon Nuttall has been criticised by an inquiry into surgeon Jayant Patel, dubbed "Dr Death" by local media.

Questions were asked as to how Mr Patel was able to practise in Queensland, despite being cited for previous negligence in two US states.

Mr Patel fled Australia in April, and his current whereabouts are unknown.

He left his job at the rural Bundaberg Base Hospital after a senior nurse, Toni Hoffman, made public allegations of malpractice against him.

The case has led to two inquiries, which have widened to become an investigation into Queensland's health system in general.

'Systems failed'

Queensland's political leader, Premier Peter Beattie, said Mr Nuttall would leave his post next week as the first step in a series of state-wide health reforms.

"Minister Nuttall is of the view - and I agree with him - that we need a fresh start to enable health reform so that Queenslanders have confidence that their health system is second to none in the world," Mr Beattie told reporters.

Jayant Patel

According to the Associated Press, Mr Nuttall defended his time in office, insisting that the managers at Bundaberg hospital should take the blame for failing to respond adequately to complaints raised by Ms Hoffman and others.

"The systems failed in that hospital," he is quoted as saying. "These matters were not brought to my attention by those people who should have brought it to my attention."

Ms Hoffman agreed, saying Mr Nuttall "had to rely on the people to tell him [about the problems at the hospital] and I think that they let him down".

Allegations against Mr Patel first surfaced when colleagues at Bundaberg Base Hospital reported that a large number of surgeries performed by him had led to serious complications.

Mr Patel was educated in India and worked for 20 years in New York and Oregon, but had his medical licence withdrawn in both states.

He then moved to Australia in 2003, where he falsified his application and obtained a job as director of surgery at the rural Queensland hospital.

Some former colleagues at the hospital told investigators they would sometimes hide patients from Mr Patel to save their lives.

On one occasion, the doctor ordered a life support machine switched off to free a bed for another patient.

Mr Patel has been linked to the deaths of 87 patients during his time as head of surgery at the Bundaberg Base Hospital, although a clinical review found his "unacceptable levels of care" directly contributed to just eight deaths.




SEE ALSO:
Australia hunts suspect surgeon
10 Jun 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Australia's 'Doctor Death'
10 Jun 05 |  Asia-Pacific


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