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Patel gets two years jail for fraud, but leaves the country

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Former Bundaberg surgeon Jayant Patel has left Australia after being given a suspended jail term for his conviction on four counts of fraud.

In one of the final pieces in the long-running saga which began in the middle of last decade, Queensland District Court Judge Terence Martin on 21 November found that Dr Patel had “calculatedly deceived your way” into his position as director of surgery at Bundaberg Base Hospital in 2003.

But Judge Martin directed that his two-year prison sentence be wholly suspended, taking into account the two-and-a-half years Dr Patel had already spent in jail for convictions later overturned by the High Court.

Previously, a jury had acquitted Dr Patel of manslaughter and another was unable to reach a verdict when he stood trial on charges of causing grievous bodily harm.

Dr Patel came to the attention of authorities in 2005 amid claims linking him to the deaths of numerous patients at Bundaberg Base Hospital, and the-then Queensland Government ordered a Royal Commission into his conduct.

Attention has also been drawn to the scandal after the current Queensland Government announced plans to force Senior Medical Officers working in the State’s public hospitals onto individual employment contracts.

The AMA has condemned the move, which threatens to unwind improved employment conditions negotiated in 2005 as a way to boost the ability of Queensland public hospitals to attract high-quality medical practitioners after the Patel case highlighted the dangers of employing sub-standard international recruits.

As reported in the 18 November edition of Australian Medicine, doctors in New Zealand are already being warned to avoid offers to work in the Queensland public hospital system because of the State Government’s contracts plan.

Judge Martin said Dr Patel’s conduct had put patients at risk, and dismissed defence arguments that the doctor had worked “exceedingly hard” while at Bundaberg Hospital.

“Patel had very good reason to work hard, because if he lost that job he couldn’t get another job without deception,” the judge said. “Patel sought out a job in surgery to which he was not entitled through incompetence.”

Several days before the sentencing hearing, the Queensland Director of Public Prosecutions announced that it had dropped several other charges against Dr Patel, including two of manslaughter and two of grievous bodily harm.

Before the hearing, Dr Patel had already spent 788 days in custody, while proceedings to have him extradited lasted an additional 131 days.

Dr Patel left the country soon after the sentencing hearing.

But that has not deterred the Medical Board of Australia and the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency from launching their own action aimed at ensuring the disgraced doctor is unable to practice in Australia.

In a joint announcement, the two agencies said they had re-activated disciplinary action against Dr Patel on several grounds, including:

·        providing false and misleading information in his two applications for registration;

·        providing clinical care that was “below the standard reasonably expected”; and

·        that his behaviour amounted to “unsatisfactory professional conduct”.

The Board will prosecute the case against Dr Patel before the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal, seeking to prevent him from applying for registration as a medical practitioner in Australia. He was de-registered in April 2005.

Adrian Rollins