Dr James Latham Peters, an Australian anaesthetist, is under investigation for deliberately infecting his women patients with hepatitis C. The Croydon Day surgery in Melbourne, where he worked till late last year, has been raided.
The Department of Human Services (DHS) had ordered an investigation in February this year after 12 women who underwent procedures at the surgery were found to have contracted hepatitis C. The Croydon unit is Victoria's only late-term abortion clinic. All those who had come into contact with the anesthetist were told to go for screening.
Eventually the department announced that of the 1800 women screened 58 tested positive to hepatitis C. Thirty-five of the women had genetic links to Dr Peters' strain of the disease.
Law firm Slater and Gordon is representing at least 30 hepatitis C infected women who are demanding compensation from the clinic, Dr Peters and possibly the Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria (MPBV) for allowing him to practise unsupervised.
Dr Peters, a widower and father of two teenage children, has a history of drug abuse and received a suspended jail sentence in 1996 for writing around 100 stolen pethidine prescriptions for himself and his late wife Julia.
Police have not spoken to Dr Peters yet, and he maintains he did not know he carried the infection. Those close to Dr Peters say that he feels like a fugitive, even though he has not been charged and has not yet been required to speak with detectives.
The Health Department has said that the women with the matching hepatitis C strain were infected in 2008 and 2009. The Age
has been told Dr Peters often treated as many as 15 patients a day, and would normally administer an anaesthetic blend that included fentanyl and propofol - he had very limited access to pethidine.
In November last year, after concerns were raised by his colleagues, Dr Peters' urine was tested twice, just weeks before the alarm was raised about the infected women. Dr Peters returned a negative result for pethidine but positive results for two other drugs: cannabis and benzodiazepine, a class of drugs that includes valium.
Police have since subpoenaed a urine sample that Dr Peters submitted to his employers last November and will test them for a wide range of drugs.
Medical journals have previously highlighted the fact that drug-abusing anaesthetists are most likely to turn to the drugs to which they have ready access. At least one previously suspect Australian anaesthetist was specifically screened for both propofol and fentanyl.
Other newspaper reports say Dr Peters' home was raided, but a spokeswoman for Victoria Police says she cannot confirm that.
Victoria Police also says it has contacted Interpol and is looking at similar cases worldwide.