Cocaine Surgeons Remain at Work
[imgl=white] View attachment 29205 [/imgl] THREE surgeons are continuing to work at Melbourne hospitals despite admitting to using cocaine.
Western Health has confirmed that two surgeons still working at its hospitals and a trainee surgeon admitted to using cocaine at a private home outside of work hours three months ago.
It said there was no evidence to suggest that any of the surgeons had ever been drug-affected while on the job.
A senior hospital source said the trainee surgeon had been working there for six months when the drug use came to light. The trainee surgeon no longer works at Western Health but is employed at another public hospital.
The other two surgeons are still working at Western Health while also operating at several private hospitals. The source said one of the surgeons was believed to be a frequent user.
Western Health runs the Western Hospital in Footscray and the Sunshine and Williamstown hospitals.
Cocaine is a stimulant that can produce feelings of euphoria and an increased heart rate. Its effects can last from a few minutes to a couple of hours and cause a person to feel exhausted once the initial ''rush'' has worn off.
Western Health executive director of medical services Mark Garwood said the health service took ''a range of steps to ensure that no patient had been impacted in any way'' as soon as it became aware of the drug use.
''In addition, an immediate medical evaluation was undertaken to assess the individuals' capacity to continue to conduct their professional duties,'' he said.
Dr Garwood said monitoring was in place to ensure high standards of patient care were maintained at all times, including weekly reviews of every case within the unit concerned. The health service would not say whether the surgeons were being drug tested.
The spokesman said additional monitoring of the surgeons following the drug use ''included ongoing liaison with the Victorian Doctors Health Program to confirm that the surgeons involved are fit to practise and present no risk to patient safety.
''Extra support is also being provided by senior members of the unit.''
The Victorian Doctors Health Program is an independent organisation that cares for doctors and medical students with health problems.
It can receive referrals from the Medical Board of Australia, which has the power to restrict a doctor's registration to include requirements for drug screening and reports from treating specialists.
A spokeswoman for the medical board said she could not confirm whether the board was investigating particular cases, but The Age has confirmed that there are no restrictions on the registrations of the surgeons involved.
The board has the power to take immediate action to restrict a doctor's registration if it believes he or she poses an immediate risk to the health and safety of the public.
Since July 2010, mandatory reporting rules have compelled health professionals and employers to report behaviour that puts patients at risk. This includes alcohol and drug use or sexual abuse.
The senior hospital source said some surgeons were concerned about how the issue had been managed internally, including how long it took for the hospital to notify the medical board.
The hospital said it responded to the drug use immediately. It said it was aware that the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons had referred the matter to the medical board for investigation.
College spokesman John Quinn said the college had no disciplinary powers in the matter and the surgeons were receiving treatment from the doctors' health program.
''The college sees its role in this situation as to uphold the standards, maintain doctors' health and to be involved in rehabilitation and remediation rather than punishment,'' he said.
Victorian Health Services Commissioner Beth Wilson said patient safety was the primary objective in such cases. ''We must make sure that doctors who are treating patients are capable of doing so in a safe and effective manner,'' she said.
''Any illicit drug-taking by a doctor is of great concern and must be investigated. Doctors must also be offered assistance if they do have substance abuse problems.''
Kate Hagan and Julia Medew
The Age : October 25, 2012
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