Dr Graeme Reeves
Mr ANDREW CONSTANCE (Bega) [5.20 p.m.]: I call for an urgent Government investigation of the situation I will now outline to the House. I wish to detail the story of a woman in Bega with whom I have met on a number of occasions and who has suffered terribly at the hands of gynaecologist Dr Graeme Reeves. This woman does not wish to be identified but is considering telling her tragic story to the national media in the hope that Dr Reeves is prevented from working once and for all and that NSW Health reviews its employment process.
In 2002 this woman—whom I will refer to as Mrs C—was to have a pre-cancerous 20-millimetre skin abnormality excised from her labia minora. Dr Reeves drew a diagram on the surgical consent form to show her the extent of the procedure that was to be performed. However, when the patient regained consciousness after the surgery, she found that an area 95 millimetres by 55 millimetres by 34 millimetres had been cut from her genital region, all for a lesion with a 20-millimetre diameter. Mrs C says she was shattered and to this day feels mutilated. For two years she says going to the toilet was "electric agony". Mrs C also has had to endure personal hygiene issues because her urine now puddles due to the absence of a proper outlet. On reviewing her case a gynaecological oncologist said that the surgery performed on Mrs C had been out of favour for 30 years due to the significant level of deformity that it causes and the large amount of normal skin removed.
In July 1997 Dr Reeves was ordered to cease the clinical practice of obstetrics after a professional standards committee of the Medical Board found him guilty of unsatisfactory professional conduct. The same inquiry found that he had an impaired mental capacity to practise medicine. Conditions were put on Dr Reeves' continued practice of medicine, including his continued psychiatric treatment. As I said, Dr Reeves was also ordered to cease the clinical practice of obstetrics.
How is it then that in April 2002 Dr Reeves found employment with the then Greater Southern Area Health Service as a visiting medical officer in obstetrics and gynaecology? Dr Reeves accepted the job knowing full well that he was prohibited from the clinical practice of obstetrics. Where was the check of his employment history, his referees and his record by the area health service and the Government? That is standard practice when any employer fills a staff vacancy, but apparently it is not for our health service. When the health service trusted the word of Dr Reeves it made a mistake that Mrs C lives with every day.
Moving on to 2004, Dr Reeves' employment with the Greater Southern Area Health Service was brought to the attention of the Medical Tribunal of New South Wales. In July 2004, the tribunal found that Dr Reeves was guilty of gross professional misconduct of the most serious kind. There is no doubt that Dr Reeves' actions amount to gross professional misconduct. However, how should we describe the action, or lack thereof, of the Labor Government and the area health service during the selection process that led to the employment of Dr Reeves? We need a full and detailed review of the processes surrounding the employment of doctors and health professionals in our hospitals in the Greater Southern Area Health Service. What happened to Mrs C was preventable, but has anything been done since to ensure it will not happen again?
In 2004 Judge McGuire of the tribunal struck Dr Reeves from the register of practitioners in New South Wales and spoke of his barefaced lies and calculated omissions in providing information that he knew would affect his employment application. I call on the Minister for Health to conduct an investigation into the employment of Dr Reeves and a review of similar processes across her department. The residents of my electorate and, indeed, New South Wales rightly expect that an obstetrician, gynaecologist or anyone else who gets a job in our health system is qualified and able to practise. How was this man let loose in the system?
Mrs C's story was detailed recently in the Bega District News , and I understand that a number of other women have also found the strength to come forward. In August this year Mrs C won a civil action for medical negligence and was awarded damages of $164,000. However, Dr Reeves' insurers are denying liability and Reeves himself declares his financial position as dire. Mrs C is now considering her next move. I hope that one day she might be able to find some closure to this disturbing chapter of her life. One element of that process for Mrs C is the knowledge that this can never be allowed to happen again. The question is whether the Minister for Health will launch the investigation and review that are needed to ensure Mrs C has that peace of mind. I call on the Minister today to do so.
Mrs C has also asked that I flag the need for improved complaints handling within NSW Health. She has had to go into debt so that her concerns receive satisfactory attention, but there are many people who do not have that option. These people need to be heard so that our health system is the best that it can be. I hope that this investigation is launched.