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Melbourne’s Clinic’s hepatitis C count hits 44, more cases expected

Posted by on Jun 01, 2010 | 2 Comments

ASHLEY HALL: The number of hepatitis C infections linked to a Melbourne medical centre is incresing and so is the fear that those infections were not accidental. It has been confirmed that 44 patients who attended the abortion clinic in Melbourne’s north-east have contracted hepatitis C.

Half of those cases can definitely be linked to the private clinic, while more women are waiting on test results to find out the origin of their infections. The Victorian Health Department has already contacted more than 1,100 women asking them to be tested. Now it’s widening the net to see how far back the problem goes.

And as Simon Lauder reports, Victoria’s chief health officer says it’s getting harder to accept that the infections were accidental.

SIMON LAUDER: When the link between the Croydon Day Surgery and a hepatitis C cluster was revealed in early April only 12 infections were known. Now that figure has grown to 44 and Victoria’s chief health officer, Dr John Carnie, says suspicions are growing that the women were deliberately infected.

JOHN CARNIE: It becomes more and more difficult to explain this by any other, by an accidental means.

SIMON LAUDER: Dr James Peters, who worked at the surgery, was suspended from practising in February. Twenty-two of the known cases so far have been linked with the strain of hepatitis C that he carries. Some are still having more tests to find out if it is the same strain and some of the women who contracted hepatitis C are already clear of the disease.

Victoria’s health chief says some of the former patients of the abortion clinic may never know if they got the disease there.

JOHN CARNIE: Well that will never be able to prove one way or the other.

SIMON LAUDER: So far the health department has focussed its tests on women who went to the clinic in 2008 and 2009. But Dr John Carnie says women who had procedures done there in 2006 and 2007 should also receive advice and possibly get a test. All up, more than 3,500 women may need to be tested for hepatitis C.

JOHN CARNIE: If we don’t get any positives then we could be sure that the risk was confined to 2008 and ’09.

SIMON LAUDER: Victoria’s Health Minister Daniel Andrews says there’s no evidence so far that infection control policies have failed.

DANIEL ANDREWS: What is puzzling about this case and leads us to the conclusion that this is about personal behaviour rather than processes is that, despite our best efforts, no infection control breakdown, no failure of established systems and processes can be found.

SIMON LAUDER: The head of Hepatitis C Victoria, Helen McNeill, says she’s very concerned by the high number of cases linked with the clinic and she’s expecting more to be discovered.

HELEN MCNEILL: Well unfortunately, yes, the numbers could certainly become much higher because that’s about a third that they’ve contacted at this stage.

SIMON LAUDER: And of the women that Hepatitis C Victoria has been in contact with, how are they coping?

HELEN MCNEILL: Obviously it’s quite complex. To receive a diagnosis of a chronic illness like hepatitis C is devastating for anyone who becomes infected. The complications that occur because these women were undergoing a medical procedure at the time that they contracted hepatitis C just adds to the level of complexity in them getting their head around what’s happened and what they need to do now. So they’ve been quite distressed.

SIMON LAUDER: As the number of infections linked to Dr James Peters grows, so does a lawsuit which is being formed to seek compensation. Slater and Gordon medical law expert, Paula Shelton, says so far 30 women are considering mounting a class action against Dr Peters and the clinic.

PAULA SHELTON: It would not surprise me if we ended up with, you know, 100 infections from this incident.

SIMON LAUDER: What is the main concern of most of the women who’ve come forward to you? What do they want out of this?

PAULA SHELTON: The women are devastated. I mean they’re people who’ve been through a traumatic event and then to be told well, now you’ve got this disease that may be permanent and at worst case, you know, can kill you it, they just feel violated. You know, when you put your trust in someone going into surgery you don’t expect this kind of thing to happen.

SIMON LAUDER: Dr Peters had his medical licence suspended in the ’90s after a conviction for forging prescriptions. It’s believed he was also known to the Medical Practitioners Board as a drug user.

Paula Shelton says the class action may also target the day surgery and the Medical Practitioners Board.

PAULA SHELTON: My concern about the board is that they were aware of potential problems with this particular doctor. My information is that they identified him as being drug dependent. They put him through a program to assist him with that. I believe there was some testing over a period of time and then he’s just been let go and practised completely unrestricted.

SIMON LAUDER: The Medical Practitioners Board and the Croydon Day Surgery say they won’t comment on the matter while investigations continue. Victoria Police says its own investigation will be long and involved but any criminal behaviour will be uncovered and dealt with appropriately.


2 comments

  1. shattered says:

    I am one of the women put at risk by this doctor and I fill totally violated and disappointed that the facts were know and nothing was done to protect myself and the other women. I went to the clinic in good faith that I would be safe protected and treated well in such a trumatic time in my life. I was only notified a few days ago and my fate is still unknown, this one day could change my life my future and this was a day that I have already tried so hard to block out. I am horrified that a doctor can put another person at such risk and not put a single thought to how this could change my life and the clinic too he was stood down in feb and I was contacted in july. I’m angry, hurt, upset scared and I want to know how do I live with this how do you explain how you got this when you don’t even want to talk about why you were there in the first place. He should be punished to the full extent of the law he makes me ill to my gut ever time I think about it but I can’t stop thinking about it and what it means to me .

  2. also shattered says:

    I too was put at risk by this doctor. I was notified last week by the friend who drove me to the clinic (they were unable to contact me directly as I have since moved out of the country). I too have tried to block out the experience I had at this clinic and am still feeling the after effects of that day 3 years later. It was horribly compounded by the news of a potential infection with a particularly virulent strain of hep c intentionally injected by this doctor (I remember him distinctly). The weirdest thing was he seemed like a normal person (which is saying very little). Many of the people there did not seem normal. He had a consultation with me about allergies, etc. But then when I heard about a doctor convicted of having child porn and drug addict he was the first person I thought of – strange. Prior to going to this clinic I had spent the previous 6 weeks debating whether or not I should continue with the pregnancy. It was an absolutely torturous decision that I still regret. Fortunately I have ascertained that I am not infected with hep c but the torment I went through for 3 days not knowing was horrific. The day I spent at that clinic was the worst in my life and not made any easier by the appalling treatment I received there including being told to shut up when I started crying after being kept in a basement room with a psychotic patient who kept spreading her legs and showing me her soiled pads for 2 hours (with no one coming in to check on me) and then getting blood on my all over my hands when I feel off a wheelchair (I have never been in a wheel chair and lifted myself up a little to rearrange myself) and it tipped over. I was given a plastic bag to wipe it off with and yelled at to stop crying and that I never should have tried to lift myself up on the chair. The nurses were stressed and just plain mean. The doctor that performed the termination was weirdly muscular, tan and bizarre (I have since found out that he is in trouble for performing an abortion without consent on a mentally disabled girl and for mis prescribing steroids). It seemed like there were literally hundreds of girls being rushed through the system (it was the last day of surgery before a holiday). It still gives me shudders just thinking about that day at that decrepit horrible place. I hope with all my heart there will be no more infections, that this doctor is properly punished and that laws are put in place to prevent such gross negligence on the part of the clinic, the medical board and individual doctors. How they let a former injecting drug addict administer opiate drugs via injection who had past convictions is beyond me. Completely irresponsible and I’m guessing only allowed because it was a clinic desperate to employ. Women who have terminations are the unseen and unheard. Their pain is rarely recognized and often judged. I am so sad for those who have been irrevocably harmed by this criminal in addition to the pain they have already endured.

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