The Australian, the Medical Board of Queensland, had been hesitant to take punitive action against anyone over the Bundaberg hospital disaster. Surgeon Jayant Patel had been the only one against whom some action was taken and now the board is preparing to take action against Dr. FitzGerald for failing to act swiftly.
The decision of the board is sensitive because it was initially dismissive of calls for top administrators to be held accountable.
Documents obtained by The Australian yesterday show the board has now agreed that Dr FitzGerald received serious complaints about Dr Patel in early 2005, but "failed to take proper action to ensure that Dr. Patel was limited to surgical work that he and the hospital could satisfactorily perform".
Dr FitzGerald said he was "very disappointed" with the board's decision. He said he had tried to do his best under difficult circumstances. Dr Evans hopes the latest decision will send a powerful message to senior bureaucrats and administrators in charge of health systems that they are not immune from disciplinary action usually reserved for clinicians.
Dr Evans urged the board two years ago to start disciplinary action against Dr. FitzGerald, who had resigned from Queensland Health after giving evidence at a 2005 judicial inquiry into the problems at Bundaberg Base Hospital, as well as other administrators.
Undeterred by the rebuffs, Dr Evans researched the evidence in greater detail, cited legislation and administrative negligence cases from Britain, and wrote several letters accusing the board of failing in its responsibilities. "From my time at Queensland Health as a clinician I could see where the major problems were - they were with senior medical administrators," Dr Evans said.
The board has concluded that Dr FitzGerald "failed to recommend suspension of Dr Patel when he could and should have done, thus exposing patients to undue risk of harm". The matter is to be heard by the Health Practitioners Tribunal.
Medical practitioners found guilty of unprofessional conduct face penalties ranging from fines to being struck off as doctors. Dr Patel, who has lived in Portland in the US state of Oregon since fleeing Australia in April 2005, will be arrested by US marshals when the paperwork is completed between Australian and US authorities, possibly as early as next month.
The extradition request is understood to relate to 16 charges, including manslaughter and grievous bodily harm, arising from his time at Bundaberg Base Hospital.