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Surgeon Loses Manslaughter Appeal

Fri, 04/22/2011 - 7:51am

American surgeon Jayant Patel will serve out a seven-year prison term in Australia, after a Brisbane court dismissed his appeals against his manslaughter convictions and sentence. In June 2010, the former director of surgery at the Bundaberg Base Hospital was convicted in connection with the deaths of three patients, and of causing grievous bodily harm to a fourth. The convictions came five years after the end of Patel's tumultuous two-year stint in Bundaberg.

Two of Patel's manslaughter convictions involved failed esophagectomies. A third concerned a patient who died after his sigmoid colon was removed. The grievous bodily harm charge involved a patient who was told he likely had cancer, but did not. Patel removed his large bowel in an operation that the judge in the case later called "pointless."

"He was very sure of himself... always talking himself up," remembered nurse Toni Hoffman, who worked alongside Patel. Yet, "the things that he was saying about himself - as we were seeing patients come through with all of these complications, and patients that ultimately died, that were in his care - just didn't ring true." One co-worker dubbed him "Dr. Death," a label that was later popularized by the press.

In all, Patel was the subject of more than 20 complaints brought by patients and co-workers. Ultimately, a government-appointed commission of inquiry concluded that his "poor level of care contributed to, or may have contributed to" at least 17 deaths and 31 injuries. What his colleagues and patients in Bundaberg didn't know, was that he had been disciplined for negligence and for making surgical errors while practicing in Portland, Oregon several years earlier.

When interviewing for the job in Bundaberg, Patel didn't disclose his disciplinary history, and Australian authorities who vetted his credentials did not discover it until after Patel had left his job two years later. Patel still faces several charges of fraud, for allegedly concealing his disciplinary past.

In dismissing Patel's appeal against what his attorneys had called a "manifestly excessive" sentence Thursday, the appeals court also dismissed the prosecutor's call for him to serve even more time behind bars.

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