As the three-month-old 12-detective Strike Force Tarella continues to investigate and accumulate evidence on a multitude of cases, retired Federal Court judge Deirdre O’Connor has completed a review into the employment of abusive doctor Graeme Reeves.
Reeves is the obstetrician/gynaecologist of “I’m going to take your clitoris too” fame. [More detail on that case here at Australian Doctor.]
The report reveals that contrary to denials issued by NSW Health Minister Reba Meagher, the Health Department knew about the restrictions placed on Reeves’ practice by the Medical Board – and ignored them, allowing him to illegally practise obstetrics at Bega and Pambula hospitals.
At his previous workplace, Hornsby Hospital, he was the subject of at least 35 reports relating to bullying of staff, communication failures, and failure to administer adequate analgesia or anaesthesia for procedures. He was sacked from Hornsby only after midwives refused to work with him. Hurrah for these brave midwives for putting their foot down, something which would have risked their own jobs at the time.
Reeves was also sacked from Sydney Adventist Hospital after complaints. The Hills Hospital reported to the Medical Board a “marked deterioration” in his work as early as 1996, after he repeatedly and aggressively abused nurses. The Hills Hospital is where he refused a woman antibiotics for staphylococcal septicaemia (“childbed fever” in the old language), despite repeated staff requests, insisting that she had “a virus”. The woman left a five-day old baby behind.
Reeves’ complete ban on obstetrics by the Medical Board came, again, after a series of complaints, including those relating to deaths. However, the Board continued to allow him to seek work in gynaecology without any legal restrictions – and Reeves ignored the ban anyhow, with the help of the Area Health Service.
Despite all of this history, Reeves was taken on in 2002 as an obstetrician and gynaecologist at Bega and Pambula by the Greater Southern Area Health Service (GSAHS) of New South Wales. His file was marked “not to do obstetrics“, but this was ignored. He reportedly continued to mutilate, abuse, and harass women, both patients and staff, and to lie to the medical board about his practice. He was eventually deregistered altogether in 2004.
The Medical Error Action Group has since documented more than 500 complaints about him.
The Health Department and Ms Meagher have said no background checks were done, but documents recently tabled in Parliament reveal that a senior health executive, the Deputy Director of Medical Services at GSAHS, Jon Mortimer, was aware of the ban but employed Mr Reeves anyway.
Mr Mortimer was suspended last week on full pay.
However, Ms O’Connor’s report said that the department failed to conduct checks with the NSW Medical Board.
She said that, while it was unclear whether the department was required to at the time – current policy now requires it does – the fact that the department was aware Mr Reeves had supervision restrictions placed on him required that it make further inquiries.
She said that Mr Reeves was spoken to by the Director and Deputy Director of Medical Services about providing obstetric services in defiance of the order in November 2002, and again in January 2003 and was told to only practise gynaecology.
All of this rampant, abusive misogyny has been blamed on his “psychiatric illness”. The diagnosis has not been made clear; some papers say he was “on antidepressants”, others that he had an unspecified “pervasive personality disorder with quite prominent narcissistic features”. (You can read a brief rundown on Cluster B Personality Disorders here.)
The report claims that some of the communication gaps regarding Medical Board background registration checks by public hospitals have been tightened up. NSW Health Director General Professor Debora Picone expects the public to feel “comforted” by this.
I don’t. Do you?