Anesthetist may have infected patients during procedure

There has been a breach in the strict infection prevention protocols followed by health care staff including doctors presumably by an Anesthetist. Nearly 250 patients in Western Australia might have been already infected with HIV, Hepatitis B and C and syphilis.

At present health officials are trying to trace these people. According to medical professionals the risk of such spread of blood-borne viruses is low but this incidence might signify a greater problem in the system. The anesthetist in question had been working at Port Hedland Hospital as well as two other hospitals in the Pilbara region over the past two years.

According to the statement made by medical director of WA Country Health Service, Dr Felicity Jeffries, the doctor in question is suspended until the investigation is complete. “An anesthetist who is performing a specific procedure using a short-term agent to put patients - basically sedating patients having colonoscopies and endoscopies - has been breaching infection control for that particular procedure…This breach of infection control has the potential of a very low risk of infection for patients,” she said. She revealed the appalling fact that he was performing a out of date procedure and said, “He has actually been reusing a secondary line…So if you have a line with fluid going into a patient, you often have other lines coming off that line, that secondary line, where other drugs are given to the patient. One of the secondary lines that is quite a distance away from the patient has been reused…Because there is the potential risk, no matter how low it is, we thought it was serious enough that we had to individually contact each patient….We don't know how this happened. I think it highlights that people working out in the country often don't have the peer review that other people have.” The nurses reportedly had brought this breach of protocol to the notice of the authorities but no action was taken.

President of the Australian Medical Association in Western Australia, Dr Gary Geelhoed expressed his regret and dismay and said, “Certainly there are challenges for doctors who do work in the country to keep up to date…They are under resourced. I understand what was being done was a practice was being performed which was quite standard for a long, long time but subsequently now thought not to [be]….It does represent a small risk to patients….Because of that very small risk, the Health Department has rightly taken the decision to follow up and test these patients, but there's a very good chance that no-one will be affected by this….And what it represents is that there is someone there who hasn't perhaps kept up with current practice.”

Port Hedland Mayor Kelly Howlett hopes that review into the issue will bring out the lacunae and may be a step towards correcting the errors. “We certainly don't want to alarm people but at least it has been brought to attention and will be investigated thoroughly… In the health area in the Pilbara there probably has been in the past some limited resources…And particularly now as the region is growing and undergoing the boom associated with the resource industry, it's very important that this investigation makes sure that we're thoroughly looking to see what resources are required in the region and that we're able to cope with the expected growth,” she said.

The actions of the doctor have been referred to the Medical Board for investigation. According to Dr Jefferies all practices by the anesthetist were being examined and an audit of his patients who may have undergone other procedures at all the hospitals is underway.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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