District health board recruiting robust, Bunton says

The Otago District Health Board has robust recruiting procedures but the risk of employing a rogue foreign doctor cannot be eliminated, says a senior manager.

Chief medical officer Richard Bunton was commenting following the release of a critical report into botched sterilisations performed at Wanganui Hospital by Slovak doctor Roman Hasil in 2005 and 2006.

The report, which was released by Health and Disability Commissioner Ron Paterson on Monday, condemned the Whanganui District Health Board for not carrying out background checks on Dr Hasil.

It was also critical of the lack of supervision of Dr Hasil, saying the supervising surgeon was too overworked to do his job.

Mr Bunton said when doctors were employed from overseas by the Otago board, standard procedures were followed. These included personally checking references provided by the applicant.

‘‘I'm confident that our procedures are robust, but as [Medical Council chairman Prof] John Campbell said, you can sometimes get some very clever people.

‘‘At the end of the day, if you do all your checks and balances, hopefully, you won't get caught out.''

When doctors were employed through a recruiting agency, the hospital still carried out its own background checks, Mr Bunton said.

‘‘It is always important to talk to the folk who actually write the references. They will often tell you things that are not written down on paper.''

Prof Campbell, of Dunedin, said that while procedures in New Zealand were robust, a large number of doctors were coming in from overseas.

‘‘A high proportion are only staying for a short time, which means the turnover is considerable and the risks of something like this happening again are still there,'' he told Radio New Zealand.

Mr Bunton said senior consultant positions at Dunedin Hospital were usually advertised both in New Zealand and overseas, and foreign doctors were a significant part of the workforce.

The Otago board has about 20 vacancies for senior medical staff, but recruitment procedures were not rushed or overlooked to fill positions as quickly as possible, he said.

- Women patients have joined a planned class action because of their treatment. John Rowan QC has organised the class action and said several women had contacted his office in the wake of yesterday's report.

Mr Rowan said he could not be specific about numbers, but ‘‘15 or more'' people operated on by Dr Hasil wanted to be involved.

Mr Paterson found that eight of the 32 laparoscopic sterilisations Dr Hasil performed in 2005 and 2006 failed, with six women subsequently becoming pregnant. Dr Hasil had failed to place clips correctly on their Fallopian tubes.

Mr Paterson found that there was inadequate checking on Dr Hasil's ‘‘chequered'' history in Australia before he was appointed as an obstetrician and gynaecologist by the Whanganui District Health Board in 2005 and inadequate supervision of him in a ‘‘grossly understaffed department''.

- Queensland's medical board is considering whether Dr Hasil can continue practising there. He was registered to practise in Queensland last year.

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