Patients in screening scare told to see lawyers


PATIENTS of a Redland Hospital surgeon under investigation amid a cancer screening scare should seek urgent legal advice if they fear he wrongly cleared them of disease, lawyers say.

Medical negligence experts are sceptical about assurances from Queensland Health to compensate those affected if the investigation finds patient cancers can be attributed to the surgeon's practice.

Solicitor John Harvey, a special counsel with Bennett & Philp Lawyers, said the statute of limitations on medical negligence claims was three years from the time the problem occurred.

Although that could be extended under special circumstances, such as a delay in the problem being detected, Mr Harvey said the time period for lodging a claim would only be increased by a year.

"In general terms, from the time they find out they've got a cancer and it was missed, when they find out that information, a year starts to tick," Mr Harvey said.

"The most important thing is that people need to contact a solicitor to get advice early if they think they might have a claim.

"They, or their dependants if they have deceased, may well have valid claims."

Queensland Health Minister Steven Miles and Director-General Dr John Wakefield. Picture: Steve Pohlner
Queensland Health Minister Steven Miles and Director-General Dr John Wakefield. Picture: Steve Pohlner

The Redland Hospital general surgeon has been banned from performing endoscopies and colonoscopies - procedures that examine the digestive tract - since September 2018, when problems first emerged.

Although the Metro South Hospital and Health Service referred the doctor to the Office of the Health Ombudsman, which then notified the Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Agency, Queensland Health's corporate office was not informed until late last year.

The surgeon performed about 1500 scope procedures at Redland Hospital between 2012 and September, 2018.

Metro South HHS has already rescreened 450 of the patients deemed at highest risk, finding 14 with bowel cancer.

Queensland Health Director-General John Wakefield has stressed the department has no evidence yet that the doctor missed signs of cancer in those patients.

He was briefed about issues with the surgeon in December last year and put measures in place to ensure the remaining 1000 patients are contacted and offered rescreens before the end of March.

Slater and Gordon's medical negligence lawyer Bill King said the delay in informing those patients was "quite concerning".

"With aggressive bowel cancer, a delay of six or 12 months can result in a precancerous lesion that could have been removed turning into a terminal cancer," Mr King said.

"I think it's important that people do seek legal advice. If people don't seek legal advice and they rely on the government compensating them properly, if they miss the time limits and the government compensation, if it eventuates, turns out unsatisfactory for them, then they're left with no alternatives."

Queensland Health Minister Steven Miles has pledged his department will be "a model litigant" to ensure impacted patients and their families are compensated.

An independent gastroenterologist is leading a review into the treatment of patients potentially impacted by the surgeon.

Metro South HHS has announced it will also undertake an investigation but is yet to release terms of reference.