Monday, September 1, 2008

'Boozy doctors joked about patient's death'

ONE of Queensland's most senior surgeons is threatening to sue the State Government after a booze-fuelled staff meeting where doctors joked about a patient who bled to death on the operating table.

Director of Surgery at Cairns Base Hospital for 10 years, Dr Christina Steffen, yesterday broke her silence to reveal the death of the critically ill patient, 78, was "the final straw".

Dr Steffen said she felt victimised and harassed after a bitter fallout with staff over the party culture within the far north Queensland hospital.

She has been on stress leave since the June incident - along with a junior surgeon under investigation for alleged incompetence - which has left the Cairns hospital barely able to cope with emergency inpatients.

"I think it is unethical to be drinking alcohol in a hospital staff meeting and making jokes at the expense of patients and surgeons," Dr Steffen told The Courier Mail.

"It is typical of the culture within the hospital."

Queensland Health last night denied they officially sanctioned the booze session.

CBH staff were invited by email to a discussion in a tutorial room on July 2 with refreshments including beer and wine.

They discussed the death of a 78-year-old man from Atherton who was admitted with a ruptured main artery and bled to death on the operating table.

Dr Steffen said the forum was "unethical" and a form of "macabre entertainment".

Dr Steffen's feud with management started after she stood in defence of a junior surgeon who, she said, had been "unfairly" accused of botched surgery and incompetence.

Last night Health Minister Stephen Robertson announced eight new beds at the Townsville Hospital to relieve pressure on overworked medical staff and facilities.

"We recognise the stress the hospital and its staff are under, and that is why we are fast-tracking opening more beds," Mr Robertson said.

As the state's health system reels from crisis to crisis, it also emerged yesterday that a paramedic had to catch a taxi to a patient suffering a cardiac arrest on the Sunshine Coast on Saturday night.

The officer was travelling in a taxi to pick up an ambulance he had left while attending an emergency call with another crew, when he had to divert to a patient during an extremely busy period.


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