Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency - Former Bacchus Marsh obstetrics director reprimanded and disqualified for 12 years

Former Bacchus Marsh obstetrics director reprimanded and disqualified for 12 years

03 Nov 2021

A former Victorian medical practitioner has been reprimanded and disqualified from applying for registration for 12 years after a tribunal made nine findings of professional misconduct against him, following action brought by the Medical Board of Australia. 

Key points
  • Former Director of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Bacchus Marsh Hospital, Dr Surinder Parhar, has had nine findings of professional misconduct made against him by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal following referral from the Medical Board of Australia.
  • Dr Parhar was reprimanded by the tribunal and disqualified from applying for registration for 12 years.
  • He has not practised medicine since October 2015 following an investigation into a tragic cluster of newborn and stillborn deaths at the hospital.
  • The Medical Board of Australia says the outcome is a reminder that practitioners must understand and act on their obligations and duty of care to ensure all patients are safe.

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:

  • failure to ensure there were adequate clinical reviews of 19 perinatal deaths
  • failure to ensure there was adequate open disclosure with patients in relation to 15 perinatal deaths
  • failure to ensure necessary policies were in place to improve patient safety 
  • inadequate supervision of three junior doctors
  • failure to improve or maintain his own professional performance
  • record-keeping deficiencies,
  • and deficiencies in his direct clinical care of one patient.

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.

Background

 
In October 2015, Ahpra and National Boards launched investigations into 101 matters about the care provided by individual practitioners at the Bacchus Marsh Hospital (operated by Djerriwarrh Health Services) during the period 2008 to 2015. This followed a cluster of potentially preventable stillbirths and neonatal deaths at the Bacchus Marsh Hospital.
 
A total of 43 registered health practitioners were the subject of concerns in the 101 matters reported (some practitioners were the subject of multiple notifications). All investigations are finalised, with some practitioners awaiting hearing in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
 
For the 43 registered health practitioners reported, almost half (21 practitioners) had matters which were able to be closed without the need for regulatory action. This included practitioners who had surrendered their registration, or who had taken remedial steps in respect of low risk performance issues. In those circumstances, the National Boards were satisfied the relevant practitioners posed no ongoing risk to the public.
 
For those practitioners where further action was taken:
  • six practitioners were cautioned
  • six practitioners had conditions imposed on their registration (some of those who had conditions imposed were also cautioned), and
  • 10 practitioners were referred to a panel hearing or the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

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Page reviewed 3/11/2021