Sick to Death, by Hedley Thomas

When Dr Jayant Patel was banned from surgical practice in the United States he packed his bags and came to Australia. In Queensland, his background not investigated, he worked at Bundaberg Base Hospital for two years. In that time he botched procedures, mishandled cases, ignored safe hygiene practices and lied to and deceived colleagues, authorities and his unwitting patients. When nurses tried to take action, they were treated as trouble-makers and their concerns were ignored or glossed over.

Finally a courageous nurse, Toni Hoffman, determined that no more patients should die, blew the whistle on the doctor whose colleagues privately called Dr Death. Hoffman’s courage, and the actions of local politician Rob Messenger and journalist Hedley Thomas lifted the lid on this unfathomable chain of events, not stopping until the public outcry forced the government to take action not just to stop Dr Patel’s medical mishandlings (he left the country soon after the matter became public), but to also investigate how this could have been allowed to happen and what was needed to reform the Queensland health system.

Sick to Death is Thomas’s version of events, pieced together by his extensive research, interviews and investigations whilst covering the issue as a journalist and key player in its unveiling. It is not a pleasant read – readers will be shocked at the loss of life and the political cover ups, and moved by the very human elements of the story – but it is a story that should be told, so that whistleblowers like Toni Hoffman can be vindicated and applauded for their courage to change what is wrong, and so that stuff ups like this one do not happen again, especially in the health system, where human lives must be recognised as more valuable than politics or budgets.

A must read.

Sick to Death, by Hedley Thomas
Allen & Unwin, 2007

You can buy this book online at Fishpond.