Five years ago almost to the day we blogged the saga of Dr. Jayant Patel, a surgeon of staggering incompetence who wreaked havoc on the citizens of Bundaberg, Australia. After 14 weeks of testimony, more than 75 witnesses and nearly 50 hours of deliberations over six days, a jury convicted Patel of manslaughter in the deaths of four patients and causing "grievous bodily harm" to a fifth. These charges involve just a small number of the cases where Patel's doctoring skills have been called into question. There may be further trials ahead.
The most appalling aspect of this case involves institutional denial: despite Patel's obvious incompetence - nurses actually hid patients from him - and despite explicit and alarming descriptions of his shortcomings as a doctor, administrators continued to support Patel, even naming him "employee of the month" following an egregious operating error that led to the death of a patient. Only when an enterprising reporter Googled his name did his prior problems as a surgeon in America pop up, at which point his employment was finally terminated.
The maximum penalty for manslaughter in Australia is life in prison. Dr. Death, in other words, is facing life. (He is filing an appeal.) In a just world, the administrators who hired, coddled and facilitated Patel would also be held accountable. But in case you haven't noticed, this is not exactly a just world. The wheels of justice, slow though they may be, have finally put an end to Patel's bizarre career, which transformed the medical premise of "do no harm" into its opposite. We can only say that he will do no further harm - a small consolation to his victims and a savage indictment of his profession.