Almost as soon as Dr. Jayant Patel’s medical career began, colleagues questioned his surgical skills. Complaints of gross incompetence and negligence ignited inquiries from medical authorities, causing Dr. Patel’s license to be restricted in the state of Oregon in 2000. He then moved to New York, where after a short time, medical authorities pressured him to surrender his medical license in that state for reasons of professional incompetence in 2001.

Dr. Patel must have seen the writing on the wall because he left the US to practice in Queensland, Australia—9400 miles from American soil. He was employed by Queensland Health, which is the state government department of health in Queensland, as director of surgery at the Bundaberg Base Hospital. Within 2 months, Nurse Toni Hoffman raised concerns about the surgical competency of Dr. Patel after observing several of his sloppy surgeries, but she was ignored. Hoffman continued to complain about Patel’s performance, yet it took 2 years before the government-run hospital began an investigation after her complaints reached the Queensland Parliament in 2005.

As the investigation ensued, Dr. Patel resigned and left Australia for the US. The media in Australia discovered that Patel had been banned from performing certain types of surgery in the US due to negligence. Shortly after the investigative story broke in the Aussie newspapers, the premier of Queensland announced an official inquiry into Patel’s medical protocol. But the inquiry was dismissed because the commissioner heading up the investigation was cited for “ostensible bias.”

However, a second inquiry was led by a former Court of Appeals judge. It took about a year, but toward the end of 2006, the inquiry resulted in warrants being issued for Patel’s arrest. He was charged with 16 counts, including manslaughter, grievous bodily harm, and fraud. Authorities caught up with Patel about 2 years later, in 2008; he was practicing medicine in the US. Patel was extradited to Australia to face the charges against him. In 2009, he stood before a committal hearing in Australia and was officially charged with 13 counts, including 3 counts of manslaughter.

The case went to trial. In 2010, Dr. Jayant Patel was found guilty on all 3 counts of manslaughter and 1 count of grievous bodily harm after one of the longest Supreme Court trials in Queensland history. Patel immediately appealed the decision, citing that he was denied a fair trial, the verdict was unreasonable, and the sentence was excessive. Patel’s appeal also alleged that the presiding judge was incompetent because he made several blunders, such as failing to discharge the jury on 2 occasions when it was warranted that he do so. The Queensland attorney general simultaneously filed an appeal on the grounds that Patel’s sentence was inadequate, and that it did not reflect the gravity of Patel’s crimes.

In 2012, the High Court of Australia unanimously upheld Patel’s appeal, stating that it was a “miscarriage of justice” and that the prosecution “radically changed its case” in such a way as to cause most of the submitted evidence to be irrelevant, and further determined that the evidence influenced the jury. However, the appeal by the attorney general resulted in a retrial for one of the manslaughter charges and one of the grievous bodily harm charges, which would be levied against him in 2 separate trials. In 2013, Patel was found not guilty in his manslaughter retrial, and his grievous bodily harm retrial was discharged because of a hung jury.

The director of public prosecutions of Queensland then pursued all outstanding charges against Patel, including charges of fraud. In November 2013, Patel pleaded guilty to 4 charges of fraud: 2 counts related to dishonestly gaining registration and 2 counts related to dishonestly gaining employment in Queensland. In exchange for his plea bargain, the prosecution agreed to drop 9 other charges against him, including 2 counts of manslaughter and 2 counts of medical negligence.

At his sentence hearing, Judge Terence Martin said to Patel, "You calculatedly deceived your way into that position [at Bundaberg Hospital].” He declared that Patel’s unlawful conduct put patients at risk, and added, "I see no indication of, and hear no expression of, your genuine remorse for your offending.” Patel was sentenced to 2 years in prison, which was wholly suspended because of the time he already served in jail for the convictions that were overturned by the High Court of Australia.

Ten years had elapsed since Patel’s medical acumen was first challenged in court.

Timeline of Incompetence

Here is a brief recap of the events and questionable conduct that caused the doctor to be accused, investigated, and brought to trial numerous times.

1984

The British Broadcasting Corporation reports that medical authorities previously criticized Patel on several occasions for failing to properly examine his patients before surgery. Patel is fined $5000 for negligence by a medical committee and he is put on probation for 3 years and suspended from practice for 6 months.

1998

Patel is living and practicing in Oregon. The Oregon Board of Medical Examiners launches an investigation of Patel after complaints that the doctor had botched numerous operations. In all, 79 patients or their relatives had lodged complaints against Patel. The Board discovers that at least 3 patients died due to Patel’s gross negligence. One patient died in 1994 after pancreatic surgery by the doctor. One woman died in 1996 after Patel performed pancreatic and colon surgery on her. And 1 patient died in 1997 after Patel performed a colostomy on the patient— backwards!

2000

Patel’s Oregon medical license is restricted statewide. He is banned from performing certain types of operations, including liver and pancreatic surgeries. Patel moves to New York to practice surgery.

2001

The New York Board for Professional Medical Conduct pressures Patel to surrender his medical license.

2003

Patel moves to Queensland, Australia. Over a 2-year period, Patel performs numerous complex operations. Medical staff note that many of those procedures were well beyond Dr. Patel’s medical expertise. Of the 1202 patients he treated, it was alleged that a minimum of 87 of his patients died due to complications related to his surgeries. He became the butt of jokes around the hospital, with some staff referring to Patel as “Dr. E. coli” because so many of his patients developed infections related to his sloppy work. The postoperation complication rates of his patients were extremely high.

2004

Fluid accumulates around a patient’s heart and needs to be drained. The operation should be routine, but a medical staff member reports that Patel stabbed his patient multiple times trying to penetrate the chest’s pleural cavity. Patel’s intervention fails and the patient dies the following day. Numerous complaints concerning how Patel botched the fluid-draining procedure leads to an investigation that uncovers 90 of Patel’s patients who died shortly after he treated them in Australia as well as the US. The same investigation links approximately another 170 cases concerning alleged medical misconduct on the part of the doctor.

An independent audit by Queensland health officials analyzed 221 patient files and concluded that Dr. Patel most likely contributed to the death of 8 patients due to “adverse outcomes after being in Patel’s care.” The report went on to further state that Patel probably caused another 8 of his patient’s deaths, but the evidence proved to be inconclusive.

Reference

  1. Bell R. Australia’s dubious Dr. Jayant Patel. Crime Library website. http://www.crimelibrary.com/notorious_murders/angels/dr_jayant_patel/index.html.
  2. Norton F, Rawlins J. Former Bundaberg-based doctor Jayant Patel sentenced over fraud charges. ABC News Australia website. Updated November 22, 2013. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-11-21/jayant-patel-sentenced-over-fraud-charges/5107314.
  3. Timeline: Jayant Patel case. ABC News Australia website. Updated November 21, 2013. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2010-06-29/timeline-of-patel-saga/886774.