Joan Rivers’ doctor quits amid investigation

New York

The head of the outpatient surgery facility where TV comedian Joan RIVERS went into cardiac arrest during a routine procedure is no longer at the clinic.

A spokesperson for Yorkville Endoscopy yesterday said Dr Lawrence COHEN was no longer the facility’s medical director, nor is he performing procedures there.  The spokesperson did not elaborate on the circumstances surrounding Dr COHEN’s departure.

Miss RIVERS, 81, died on 4 September 2014 at Mount Sinai Hospital, a week after going into cardiac arrest.

A New York State health department spokesman has said “the whole matter” was being investigated.  The Medical Examiner’s Office is also investigating.


Fugitive rapist doctor snared at last

Sao Paulo, Brazil

A Brazilian fertility doctor who went on the run in 2011 after being sentenced to 278 years in jail for sexually assaulting his patients was captured in neighbouring country Paraguay on Tuesday, 19 August 2014, police said.

Dr Roger ABDELMASSIH, whose clients included football legend Pele, was arrested in 2009 over allegations he raped or sexually abused dozens of female patients, sometimes while they were under anaesthetic.

Convicted in 2010, he fled while awaiting an appeal.  ABDELMASSIH, whose medical licence has been revoked, will be deported to Brazil.

Not dead: Hospital’s fatal error

Melbourne:  A misplaced mouse click has been blamed for issuing death notices of more than 200 living hospital patients who had been discharged the previous day.

Erroneous death notices were generated for every patient discharged from AUSTIN HOSPITAL in Melbourne and the forms automatically faxed to each patients GP.

It occurred in the early hours of Wednesday, 30 July 2014.

The AUSTIN HOSPITAL has apologised and traced the problem to “human error”.

A computer file was saved to the wrong location, substituting the death notice for the patient discharge form.

“AUSTIN Health automatically notifies GPs when their patients are discharged from hospital,” its communications director said yesterday.

The fault was recognised within hours and all affected GP clinics were then immediately notified.

Incompetence reigns at Gold Coast Hospital

An investigation is underway after revelations almost 50,000 X-rays taken at public hospitals on the Gold Coast have not been properly checked leaving patients at risk.  The investigation will examine what Minister for Health Lawrence SPRINGBORG has called a ‘long-running failure of a system designed to pick up undiagnosed medical conditions’.

Minister Springborg ordered the investigation into the lapse, which involves 48,000 X-rays taken since 2013.

Yes, you read it right… 48,000, repeat 48,000!

He said he had been advised the problem was isolated to the Gold Coast, but the inquiry would look at checking procedures across the state.

External checks would be carried out, at least in the short to medium term, to make sure all X-rays taken at the Gold Coast University Hospital and Robina Hospital were properly checked, he said.

“Delays and backlogs in this system cannot be permitted,” he said in a statement.

The Gold Coast Hospital and Health Service Board says it is aware of at least two patients who suffered adverse effects as a result of the failure.

It said it was aware there were problems with the checking procedures, but the extent of it did not become clear until late last week.

Why not?

About 22,000 X-rays have been earmarked for priority review.

The board’s patient safety spokeswoman Colette McCOOL said board members were aware there was a problem with the process, and had ordered a report on the matter.  But the scope of the problem, and the huge backlog of tests not properly checked, had come as a shock.

“We’d been advised that it was an issue over the last six months or so, but the magnitude of it wasn’t realised until last Thursday,” she told reporters on Monday, 14 July 2014.

The board’s chief executive Ron CALVERT said previous efforts to fix the problem had failed.  “Our efforts to remedy the situation have stumbled. We make mistakes. It happens,” he said.

“Our job is to make sure when we make these mistakes we are open and transparent about it and we learn from it and improve.”

They don’t.  Too many mistakes Gold Coast Hospital!  Robina, you’re no better!  The bungling at the old hospital has been transferred to the new.

Mr CALVERT said any patients found to have secondary problems would be contacted.

Don’t bet on it!

In Queensland, all X-rays are required to be double checked by radiologists.

Who was checking the double-checkers then?

Where did these radiologists get their degrees, if at all?

Imaging companies accused of rip-offs

Medical imaging companies have been accused of exploiting a Medicare loophole to charge patients and the government more for services.

The ABC has learned some companies are making vulnerable patients who need multiple scans return over a number of days.

The practice helps them avoid a Medicare billing regime where set fees are reduced for second and subsequent scans conducted on the same day.  Making patients return can save imaging practices as little as $5 or as much as half the standard cost of a scan.

It comes after the ABC revealed earlier in the year specialist doctors could be raking in millions of dollars by forcing patients back to their GP for a fresh referral each year.

But the imaging industry said sometimes there were legitimate medical or logistical reasons to ask patients to return on different days.  Charging at the higher rate also gave them more capacity to bulk-bill patients.  However, in cases where practices do not bulk-bill, it results in the maximum gap payment for patients.

Consumer advocates said asking patients to make unnecessary repeated visits was a waste of time and money.

“If it’s not medically relevant … then this could be a significant cost burden on the Australian health system and one that requires review,” Consumer Health Forum chief executive Adam Stankevicius said.

Government spending on imaging has risen more than 40 per cent in the past five years and makes up about 10 per cent of the Medicare budget.  The patient gap charges, the difference between the cost and the Medicare rebate, are also up with the average imaging gap now $88.

Patients billed for cancelled appointments

Medical advocate Lorraine Long says the imaging industry has many poor practices.

The Medical Error Action Group founder has personally been bulk-billed twice for appointments she made but later cancelled.

“There’s obviously a pattern that when you make an appointment they obtain your Medicare number, then they bill Medicare whether you turn up or not,” Ms Long said.

She said she frequently saw evidence of “double-dipping” by medical practices.

In some cases, patients were bulk-billed for clinicians they never saw or billed for visits they never attended.

“I think it’s conniving more than rorting.  Because I’m seeing it right across the board,” Ms Long said.

“I’m not just seeing it in Sydney, I’m seeing it across Australia, and I see a lot of Medicare patient history reports that have that view.”

Patients encouraged to report fraud

A Department of Human Services spokeswoman said the department had compliance activities to address inappropriate practice and fraudulent activity.

“Any changes to Medicare would need to be considered by the Department of Health,” she said.

Nurse killed patients who complained about her

A nurse who allegedly murdered 2 elderly patients and assaulted a third after two of them made complaints against her at a northern NSW nursing home, police allege.

Registered Nurse Megan HAINES, 46, had been working at St Andrews Village at Ballina for two months when she allegedly injected unscheduled insulin dosages to Isobella SPENCER, 77, and Marie DARRAGH, 82, during the night of May 10 or early on May 11, 2014.

Mrs SPENCER and Mrs DARRAGH died shortly after they were found unconscious by other nurses on May 11.

Police allege the surviving victim, 88, survived because she woke as RN HAINES tried to inject her with an unscheduled and unnecessary dose.  Police said the injections to the arms were the only injuries the patients suffered and it was not known if the victims were diabetic or required insulin.

Detective Superintendent Michael Willing of the Homicide Squad said police would allege RN HAINES injected the women after they lodged complaints against her.

RN HAINES will be charged with two counts of murder and one of assault shortly after she arrives in Sydney late on Tuesday night.

Detective Superintendent Willing said Ms Haines had been a suspect since early in the investigation.  “We had a good idea of what occurred and were waiting for further forensic accounts,” he said.  According to police, RN HAINES did not return to work after the deaths. She resigned a few days later.

RN HAINES’ registration as a nurse includes a note the she is required to submit performance reviews from her managers to the registry office every six months, for 18 months.

RN HAINES was arrested on Monday in the Victorian coastal town of Seaspray about 11:00.  Warrants were issued for her arrest by the NSW Homicide Squad late last week.  She was remanded into Victorian police custody overnight before NSW Police successfully applied for her extradition at a court hearing on Tuesday morning.

RN HAINES has not requested bail and will face court again on Wednesday morning.


Over 1,000 U.S. veterans killed by disastrously inept VA hospital system

WASHINGTON DC:  A newly issued report by a U.S. senator found that more than 1,000 U.S. veterans likely died in the past decade because of malpractice in regard to a lack of proper and timely care from the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) medical centers.

The report from Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., himself a physician, “aggregates government investigations and media reports to trace a history of fraudulent scheduling practices, budget mismanagement, insufficient oversight and lack of accountability that have led to the current controversy plaguing the VA”, CNN reported.

CNN was the first to break the story that some U.S. military veterans had died after being placed on a “secret waiting list” at the VA medical center in Phoenix, Arizona.

Poor management is costing billions

The VA has since admitted that 23 patients died awaiting care that was delayed months, but Coburn’s report titled “Friendly Fire: Death, Delay and Dismay at the VA” reveals that many more deaths have been linked to system-wide failures at VA hospitals and clinics all over the country.

Coburn stated that if the VA’s budget had been handled properly and the correct management put in place, many of those deaths could have been avoided.

“Over the past decade, more than 1,000 veterans may have died as a result of VA malfeasance”, Coburn, who has survived three bouts with cancer, said.  He believes the government should offer veterans access to private-sector hospitals and clinics.

“Poor management is costing the department billions of dollars more and compromising veterans’ access to medical care,” he said.

Malpractice suits, office remodeling, bonuses

Coburn’s office said that the VA has allocated some $20 billion since the beginning of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to a number of non-health-related projects, such as office remodels, unused software licenses, undocumented government debit card purchases, the funding of call centers that received just 2.4 calls per day on average and bonuses for top officials, including administrators of the facilities where vets died waiting for care.

As CNN reported:

“In 2013, four VA construction projects in Las Vegas, Orlando, Denver and New Orleans cost an extra $1.5 billion because of scheduling delays and excessive expenditures, the report shows.

“Additional funds have been funneled into legal settlements. Since 2001, the VA has paid about $845 million in malpractice costs, of which $36.4 million was used to settle claims involving delayed health care.”

Additional scrutiny has been applied to the VA’s budget following revelations about the controversial bonus system payments; they allegedly created incentives for administrators and managers to hide the fact that patients had to wait months for care.

At a recent congressional hearing, VA Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration Gina Farrisee confirmed that 78% of senior VA managers qualified for extra pay or other compensation in fiscal year 2013 (fiscal years run from Oct. 1 – Sept. 30), despite the malpractice and treatment delay controversies.

Here’s one of the more egregious examples:

“Former VA Regional Director Michael Moreland received a $63,000 bonus in 2013 for infection prevention policies, for example, but the VA’s Office of Inspector General concluded that his policies failed. Moreland presided over the Pittsburgh VA, where an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease killed six veterans in 2011 and 2012.”

In addition, Coburn’s report identified crimes that had been committed by VA staff, such as drug dealing, theft and sexual abuse of patients. The incidents spanned the past several years.

Some names and positions might change, but the real answer — getting government out of the healthcare business altogether — won’t.

Coburn — who said he wasn’t surprised by his report — knows; he was trained in a VA hospital.

“The culture in the VA should be people working for veterans, not for the VA, [but] the culture right now is that I work for a system … and the requirements are so low,” he told Politico.

Schumacher medical records stolen, for sale

DOCUMENTS relating to Michael SCHUMACHER have been stolen, the Formula One star’s management says, with the thieves claiming them to be medical records about his coma from a devastating ski crash in December 2013.

“For several days stolen documents and data are being offered for sale.  The offerer claims them to be the medical file of Michael SCHUMACHER,” the German’s spokeswoman Sabine KEHM said in a statement on Monday.

“We cannot judge if these documents are authentic.  However, the documents are clearly stolen. The theft has been reported. The authorities are involved,” she added.

KEHM warned against the purchase or the publication of the data, stressing: “The contents of any medical files are totally private and confidential and must not be made available to the public.”

She vowed to sue “against any publication of the content or reference to the medical file”.

SCHUMACHER was transferred from a French hospital to a facility in Switzerland earlier this month after emerging from a coma.  He had been treated since 29 December in the French Alpine city of Grenoble after he slammed his head against a rock while skiing with his son and friends.

A police source later told AFP that the Grenoble hospital had last week filed a lawsuit regarding the theft of the data.

The 45-year-old was transferred to a hospital in the Swiss city of Lausanne where he will be undergoing further treatment.

Source:  AFP

MEAG COMMENT:  This is how sick the world is!  Despicable act, and for what purpose?

Health watchdog ‘not up to it’

THE NSW agency responsible for investigating health complaints has failed the Hunter, a long-time campaigner for patients’ rights says.

The Health Care Complaints Commission’s (HCCC) projection of a record 5,185 complaints by the end of the year, along with a 20per cent reduction in referrals for disciplinary action or prosecution, showed it was not acting as the state’s health watchdog, Medical Error Action Group spokeswoman Lorraine LONG said.

The number of complaints from the Hunter about health providers was rising in line with the overall complaint increase, but the number of complaints about the HCCC’s handling of complaints was also rising, Miss LONG said.

‘‘We’ve got this commission set up to do this job, but they’re not doing the job,’’ she said.

‘‘If my organisation can uncover serious failings within the system with no funding, and if we can run a group on the smell of an oily rag, I don’t understand why the HCCC can’t take action in a more timely fashion.’’

Miss LONG’s comments come after recent budget figures showing the HCCC was dealing with a 25 per cent increase in complaints from 2011, when it was forced to make public that funding problems had significantly curbed the number and quality of investigations.

The comments also come after publicity about the case of neurosurgeon Suresh NAIR, who was able to operate on patients at Nepean Hospital for five years despite complaints to the commission about his drug taking. NAIR was banned from practising in 2010 after he was charged and later convicted of offences relating to the drug deaths of two sex workers.

In its 2012-13 report, the HCCC said the majority of complaints about medical practitioners were either discontinued (57.2per cent) or referred to the Medical Council of NSW (20.4per cent).

‘‘To manage the high work load while meeting the statutory requirement of assessing complaints within 60 days, the commission continued the practice of assessing complaints that contain sufficient information without making any further inquiries,’’ the annual report noted.

Complaints about doctors included competence, illegal practices, sexual misconduct and inappropriate disclosure of patient information.

Cash shortfall hits checks on rogue doctors


The agency responsible for investigating healthcare complaints and weeding out rogue doctors is in crisis with new statistics exposing a dramatic decline in investigations despite complaints from the public being at an all-time high.

In 2011 the Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) acknowledged it was so cash-strapped it was having to cut both the number – and quality – of its investigations.

In his annual report, the Commissioner, Kieran PEHM, spoke of a ‘‘very challenging year” involving rising complaints that were not being matched with corresponding increases in funding or staff, causing the HCCC to regularly reject public concerns – without even as much as a call to clarify the problem.

Forecasts in this week’s NSW budget papers suggest the Commission is no longer fulfilling its duties as the state’s health watchdog.  By the end of the year the HCCC is on course to receive a record 5,185 complaints – 25 per cent more than four years ago.  Yet referrals for disciplinary action or prosecution will have dropped 20 per cent to 110 – with actual disciplinary or appeal cases falling by one-third.

The figures coincide with a recent Fairfax Media investigation that uncovered serious failures in the HCCC’s investigatory processes which allowed the now jailed drug-abusing neurosurgeon Suresh NAIR to continue operating on patients at Nepean Hospital for more than five years – despite ongoing knowledge of his ‘‘severe impairment’’.

Opposition health spokesman Andrew McDONALD said: ‘‘Complaints are on the rise, the HCCC is not being properly funded and this is what the people of NSW are left with.  The bottom line is, you cannot possibly have a quality healthcare system without a fully functioning HCCC.’’

According to its website, the HCCC ‘‘acts to protect public health and safety’’.  However, for many years, there has been evidence to suggest it is in need of an overhaul.

In 2008 the NSW Parliament demanded a formal explanation from the body over its botched handling of the Butcher of Bega case, asking why it took 14 years to act on a string of complaints surrounding the now infamous doctor Graeme REEVES.  At that time, Opposition health spokeswoman Jillian SKINNER said it was ‘‘appalling’’ the government was still not treating the REEVES matter seriously, also accusing the then health minister, Reba MEAGHER, of a ‘‘cover-up’’.

But today Mrs SKINNER occupies the NSW Health hotseat and is refusing to comment on a strikingly similar situation involving the HCCC, the Medical Council of NSW and NAIR.

It was not until 2010, when police charged NAIR over the cocaine-related deaths of two sex workers, that he was banned from practising.  In the 5 years prior NAIR destroyed many lives, though the exact number remains unclear.  At least one victim, Carla DOWNES, is still being denied access to the findings of an HCCC investigation into her own botched treatment.

‘‘The fact that Nair was allowed to get away with working for so long should never be allowed to happen again,’’ Mr McDonald said. ‘‘The problem is, there is another Nair somewhere in our medical system right now. Are we again ignoring the warning signs?’’

Mr PEHM and Mrs SKINNER declined interviews with the Herald.

Assistant Health Minister Jai ROWELL said: ”The NSW government supports the important work of the HCCC.’’  He said this year’s budget allocation was $12.3 million – an increase of $1.45 million since 2010-11, when Labor was in government.

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