‘Dr Death’ to return to Australia to face charges, patients relieved

June 26th, 2008 - 12:18 pm ICT by IANS  

By Neena Bhandari
Sydney, June 26 (IANS) Justice seems closer home Thursday for the families and loved ones of former patients of India-born American citizen, Dr Jayant Patel, as he decided to forego his fight against extradition from the United States and return to Australia to face charges. Australian authorities have been hoping to bring Patel to Queensland to face charges for 16 offences, including manslaughter, grievous bodily harm and fraud, relating to his employment as director of surgery at regional Bundaberg Base Hospital between 2003 and 2005.

Patel’s US lawyer Marc Blackman wrote in a motion filed in the US District Court in Portland, Oregon: “Respondent (Patel) intends to consent to extradition to expedite his transfer to Australia. This consent reflects his willingness, desire, and intent to confront the allegations on the merits. He now accepts that he must return to Australia to contest the allegations.”

The news of Patel’s return to stand trial in Australia has brought much relief to his former patients and their families.

“I cried all the way home from work, I’m shaking like a leaf. It’s such a relief - I can’t believe that it’s all happened so quickly. We did prepare everyone for a long wait… This is something that we’ve all hung together for, we just stayed strong and we’ve just said all the right things and we’ve really fought for this day to come,” Bundaberg Hospital Patients Support Group spokeswoman Beryl Crosby told the Australian Associated Press.

However, whistleblower nurse Toni Hoffman told AAP: “It is and it isn’t (a surprise). He’s so clever that I knew… it wouldn’t just pan out like a normal extradition.”

Patel, 58, who was arrested in the US on March 12, has been locked in a high-security Portland prison since. He is seeking bail while the extradition details are finalised.

Welcoming the legal move as “very good news”, Queensland Premier Anna Bligh told Australian Broadcasting Corporation Radio: “It means that Dr Patel is likely to face an Australian court earlier than we would have otherwise anticipated and frankly the sooner, the better.”

The Queensland state government has drawn flak over the handling of the Patel case. The state Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg told AAP: “The court process should now take its full and proper course and no one should forget the government’s involvement. If they had handled it more appropriately from the start and didn’t fly him out of the country business class, this matter could have been dealt with much quicker here in Queensland.”

Patel, banned from surgery in two US states, was employed at the regional Bundaberg Base hospital for A$200,000 per annum in 2003. In late 2003, he was promoted to director of surgery at the hospital. On April 1, 2005, Patel’s bosses signed on a $3,547 business-class, one-way air fare for him to travel to the US, despite him being neck-deep in accusations of fatal incompetence.

Questions being asked are if the Australian medical system needs to undergo a major health check to ensure checks and balances are in place while recruiting overseas doctors.

Dubbed as “Dr Death” by the Australian media, Patel’s case is probably the worst medical-negligence scandal in Australia. He allegedly falsified his application to practise medicine in Australia and then falsified death certificates and refused patients’ transfers to other hospitals to cover up “botched treatment and surgery”.

Patel’s return to stand trial will bring a closure to the pain and suffering of the community in this city of sunshine and sugarcane with an urban population of over 43,000 and only four hours drive north of the state capital Brisbane.

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