Queensland doctors operated on wrong body parts, left equipment inside bodies, report finds.

By Kristian Silva and Lexy Hamilton-Smith

Mark Beilby felt “sick to the pit of [his] stomach” when he lifted his shirt and realised surgeons had operated on the wrong part of his abdomen.

In 2013, Mr Beilby was booked in for surgery at the Redcliffe Hospital to fix an epigastric hernia, which occurs when fat pushes through the abdomen wall and causes a lump.

At the time he also had another abdominal hernia five centimetres away, although that was not causing him any troubles.

Documents obtained by the ABC showed doctors admitted to accidently operating on the second hernia – a mistake Queensland Health’s deputy director-general Dr John Wakefield described as “unacceptable and preventable”.

Mr Beilby’s case is one of 47 serious mistakes, or sentinel errors, that occurred in the Queensland public health system between 2010 and 2015.

The figures were released today as part of a federal Productivity Commission report.

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Some of the incidents recorded in Queensland included operations on the wrong body parts, surgical instruments left inside people’s bodies and seven cases of medication-dispensing errors which led to death.

Mr Beilby said he believed a standard surgical checklist was not followed and other administrative errors contributed to his incorrect surgery.

“It’s beyond belief that somebody could sit there and pick up a scalpel and start cutting away without having the rest of the surgical theatre team on board with them at the same time,” he said.

Mr Beilby said he considered himself lucky, but believed there were systematic problems within the health system.

“I’ve walked away, many other people don’t,” he said.

Mandatory reporting ‘needed within private hospitals’

Sarah Atkinson, medical negligence principal at Maurice Blackburn law firm, believed the real number of serious mistakes could be much higher than the 47 reported.

“It’s great that we have access to these figures within public hospitals, but negligence doesn’t just happen within public hospitals, it happens in private hospitals as well,” she said.

“We think it would be great if there was mandatory reporting in private hospitals … it’s difficult to speculate but you’d think there would be at least the same rate of incidents.”

Ms Atkinson said people who suffered from sentinel errors could receive up to $350,000 in compensation, but such high payouts rarely occurred in Queensland.

In a media conference today, Dr Wakefield acknowledged serious errors had occurred in public hospitals but said he was pleased with the culture of Queensland Health staff reporting mistakes.

“Sometimes simple mistakes can lead to really catastrophic outcomes for patients, and our job and the job of my team particularly is to do everything we can to prevent these things from happening,” he said.

“Our obligation is to learn from them.”

With more than 1 million cases of care in Queensland’s health system each year, Australian Medical Association Queensland president Chris Zappala said the percentage of mistakes was extremely low.

“Of course I’d love it to be zero and we’re working towards being zero, but it’s definitely not increasing so that’s a good thing,” he said.

This post originally appeared on ABC News.


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