The New South Wales health department has been ordered to review the treatment of all public cancer patients over the past five years, after revelations fresh cases of suspected chemotherapy under-dosing in the public health system are being investigated.
The State Government made the announcement as it released its report into the under-dosing of patients by Dr John Grygiel at another Sydney hospital, St Vincent’s in Darlinghurst.
The report found 103 St Vincent’s patients with head and neck cancers had been given low doses.
The State Opposition has again called for the resignation of NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner following the revelations.
But Ms Skinner has hit back at the Opposition, saying she was disturbed they were trying to politicise the issue.
Opposition Leader Luke Foley has spoken out against Ms Skinners’ handling of the chemotherapy problems and the events at a hospital in Sydney’s south west, where one baby died and another was left with a suspected brain injury after being given the wrong gas.
“Ms Skinner, all the way through, has sought principally to cover for hospital administrators rather than fight for patient health and safety,” Mr Foley said.
Ms Skinner said the publicity the chemotherapy scandal generated had prompted a nurse at Sutherland Hospital to come forward flagging possible similar incidents involving patients of haematologist Dr Kiran Phadke.
Cases of suspected chemotherapy under-dosing at Sydney’s Sutherland and St George hospitals are being investigated.
The Opposition used question time in State Parliament on Tuesdayto attack Ms Skinner for attempting to prevent both of the stories from getting into the media.
Internal and external reviews ordered: Skinner
Ms Skinner said internal and external reviews were ordered and the NSW Medical Council and Health Care Complaints Commission was immediately notified.
Three potentially affected patients who had been under Dr Phadke’s treatments for up to 13 years have been identified. Two of them have died.
The records of another 14 patients have been identified and are undergoing external clinical review.
Ms Skinner said clinicians from the local health district has contacted all patients and their next of kin to advise them of the extensive review and the support available to them.
She said the review of the treatment of thousands of cancer patients over the past five years was one step the Government was taking to reassure cancer sufferers.
“I believe that the measures that we put in place to provide that assurance will provide that assurance.”
Dr Phadke has not practiced in the hospitals since April 2016 and was formally suspended from duty in June.
Doctor regrets ‘distress caused to patients, families’
Meanwhile, the report into Dr Grygiel details a culture of conflict and mistrust in the oncology department at St Vincent’s Hospital.
The review, led by the state’s Chief Cancer Officer Professor David Currow, found there was a failure by St Vincent’s staff to recognise and report the incidences of under-dosing.
In a statement, Dr Grygiel said: “The report contains no evidence that a higher dose would have been more effective or that my treatment has caused harm to any patient.”
“I regret that some of my patients and their families have been caused distress by the uncertainty.
“As I have stated on many occasions, my only concern throughout my career has been the wellbeing and most appropriate treatment of each patient. This has guided all the clinical decisions I have made.”
Ms Skinner said in light of the review and today’s revelations, a number of steps were being taken to reassure cancer patients and their families that their treatment was sound.
The Chief Executives of Local Health Districts and Specialty Networks will be required to confirm in writing that patients are being treated in accordance with the appropriate protocols.
The Government will also allocate $6 million over three years to roll out new software to ensure chemotherapy prescribed in electronic prescribing systems is delivering evidence based treatment.