03 Nov 2021
Trigger warning: Some readers may find this article distressing. If you are experiencing distress, please visit the drs4drs website for support in your state or territory or contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 for confidential help.
Dr Surinder Parhar was the Director of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Bacchus Marsh Hospital (operated by Djerriwarrh Health Services) between March 2008 and July 2015.
Dr Parhar surrendered his medical registration in October 2015 following a cluster of newborn and stillborn deaths at the Bacchus Marsh Hospital. He has not practised since.
The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (Ahpra) has investigated 43 registered practitioners who worked at Bacchus Marsh Hospital during the time of these tragic deaths. Following that investigation, Dr Parhar was referred to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (the tribunal) in January 2019 by the Medical Board of Australia (the Board).
The nine allegations brought by the Board against Dr Parhar in the tribunal proceeding related to his:
Dr Parhar admitted each allegation and acknowledged that each allegation constituted professional misconduct.
The tribunal found all nine allegations were proven and that Dr Parhar had engaged in professional misconduct in relation to each one. A finding of professional misconduct is the most serious tribunal determination under the National Law. The allegations, the tribunal said, constituted repeated professional failings in almost every aspect of Dr Parhar’s role and his responsibilities.
The tribunal reprimanded Dr Parhar and disqualified him from applying for registration for 12 years.
‘While we hope, like many, that the catastrophic outcomes between 2008 and 2015 at [Djerriwarrh Health Services] will never be repeated anywhere, we consider it important that there also be a clear message about individual responsibility here for those who may have similar leadership roles to Dr Parhar in healthcare settings, now or in the future, or who may simply be registered medical practitioners working in healthcare settings, where systemic failures are adversely affecting patient outcomes.’
The tribunal said disqualifying a health practitioner from applying for registration for 12 years effectively meant that they would never practise again. The disqualification order sent ‘a clear message to those who may still expect to have years of medical practice before them that, if they engage in similar conduct, their time as a doctor is likely to end well before their planned retirement.’
Board Chair, Dr Anne Tonkin, said: ‘This was a tragic situation. While we recognise this decision may be of little comfort for the families who so sadly lost their babies, it highlights the importance of registered medical practitioners, especially those in senior positions, understanding and acting on their responsibilities to ensure safe patient care.'
Ahpra CEO Martin Fletcher said: ‘This is a strong outcome in response to such tragic and sad events. It is important to hold accountable practitioners in leadership roles who have clear responsibilities for patient safety and who fail to act.'
Read the tribunal’s full decision on the AustLII website.