More baby deaths uncovered at Bacchus Marsh Hospital, ABC reports

A fresh investigation into Bacchus Marsh and Melton Hospital has uncovered seven more infant deaths, bringing the total number of deaths at the maternity unit to 18, the ABC has reported.

In October 2015 the Victorian Health Department revealed it had asked Professor Euan Wallace to probe 11 stillbirths or deaths in 2013 and 2014 at the hospital.


Hospital probe uncovers more baby deaths

Fresh investigation into Bacchus Marsh and Melton Hospital has found seven more infant deaths, bringing the total to 18. Courtesy ABC News 24.

The eminent obstetrician found that hospital practices could have contributed to seven of those deaths.

The events at the hospital, which is run by Djerriwarrh Health Services, was described by Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessy as a “series of catastrophic failures”.

Bacchus Marsh and Melton Regional Hospital.
Bacchus Marsh and Melton Regional Hospital. 

Subsequently the government asked Professor Wallace to review deaths that occurred before 2013. The results of this review have yet to be released. 

But the ABC’s 7.30 program on Monday reported that Professor Wallace had discovered that seven additional babies died at the hospital’s maternity unit in the period dating back to 2003. 

It is not clear whether these seven deaths were avoidable. 

The program reported that three of the doctors who were involved in delivering the 11 babies who died in 2013 and 2014 are still working at the hospital.

It is also reported that in 2013 the Head of Obstetrics at Western Health, Professor Glyn Teale, had made a complaint about Dr Surinder Parhar, then head of obstetrics at Bacchus Marsh, to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency [AHPRA].

Professor Teale approached AHPRA after seeing a woman referred from Bacchus Marsh Hospital.

But it took AHPRA two years to act on the the professor’s notification. 

Maurice Blackburn solicitor Dimitra Dubrow, who represents that woman, said it wasn’t “good enough” that it took two years.

“Our client was devastated about the time that it took AHPRA to make its finding, because she questions and thinks about what could have been – all those other babies, all those other lives that could have been saved if the hospital had acted sooner or AHPRA had made its findings sooner,” Ms Dubrow said.

On February 7, Dr Parhar told The Age he had been unfairly targeted.

The former obstetrician, who allowed his medical registration to lapse in July because he wanted to retire, said he had provided a service to the community for 35 years and the doctors working under him had been competent. He said he and his team frequently reviewed things that went wrong to improve their practice and tried to manage high-risk women appropriately.

The ABC also reported that another Bacchus Marsh obstetrician, Dr Claude Calandra, had 15 writs against him for alleged medical negligence over 14 years. It reported that all of the writs were settled.

AHPRA placed restrictions upon Dr Calandra for six months until June 2012, including allowing him only to practice from Monday to Friday, between 8.30am and 6pm. 

Dr Calandra declined to comment to the ABC.

AHPRA spokeswoman Nicole Newton said AHPRA was not able to discuss any current or historical cases because of ongoing investigations.

“…Our investigations into individual registered health practitioners who worked at the Djeriwarrh Health Service are continuing,” Ms Newton said. 

“There is nothing more important than making sure these investigations continue to be thorough and fair.”

A spokeswoman for the Minister for Health, Jill Hennessy, would not comment on the ABC report because of ongoing investigations into the newborn deaths. 

“A review of stillbirths and newborn deaths at Djerriwarrh Health Services going back to 2001 is currently underway and is expected to be completed soon,” the spokeswoman said.

“While this process is ongoing it is inappropriate to comment further so as not to compromise the integrity of the review and any potential open disclosures that may need to occur.”

“Our primary concern has always been, and remains, that the women and families involved are provided with accurate information and receive the support they need and deserve.”

The spokeswoman said any women who gave birth at Djerriwarrh and had concerns about the care they received should contact the Health Services Commissioner for a full independent investigation.

She said a dedicated conciliator had been established within the Office of the Health Services Commissioner for women who had concerns about the care they received.

“We have also set up a support line – 1800 675 398 – to offer advice and counselling to those families who need it.”

In October the State Government mandated that all maternity staff at the hospital would have to undergo annual training and tests. 

The new guidelines were part of the 2015-16 statements of priorities (SoP), a formal funding and monitoring agreement between the health department and Djerriwarrh Health Services.