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Tuesday, 11 August 2009
Page: 4563

Senator BARNETT (10:28 PM) —I stand tonight to raise in the Senate an issue of great concern, the state of healthcare services in north-eastern Tasmania and the case of Dr Paul McGinity. Dr McGinity is a local doctor in the north-east of Tasmania who has served as a member of the Tasmanian branch of the Australian Medical Association for more than 28 years, serving particularly the communities of Scottsdale, Derby and Bridport. The events of the last many months are of great concern. It was on 27 March that Dr McGinity received a short fax from the Medical Council of Tasmania informing him that he had been suspended from practice, effective immediately. The events since have caused significant stress and hardship to Dr McGinity and his family, not to mention damage to his reputation. Clearly, they have caused much hardship and concern to the community. What has happened since 27 March has been a litany of unquestionable denial of natural justice and shocking abuse of process. On the denial of natural justice: it was on 15 May that the Examiner reported quite specifically the concerns of and in fact quoted Dr Peter Sexton, who is the head of the Medical Council of Tasmania. Danielle Blewett, in her report, quoted Dr Sexton:

Yes, he said, Dr McGinity had been denied natural justice. But the right to public safety overtook his right to natural justice.

Well, where is the evidence?

The objectives of the Tasmanian medical council are set out on their website, which says:

The way in which the Medical Council undertakes its functions is governed by the Medical Practitioners Registration Act 1996 … and at the direction of the Minister for Health and Human Services.

That is Minister Lara Giddings. It goes on:

In determining its priorities and organising and conducting its functions, the Medical Council is guided by input from our clients, the medical practitioners and the public of Tasmania. The Medical Council aims to undertake its functions with: integrity, trust and respect; accuracy and rigour; and honest and open communication.

Well I am not sure, and in fact I am entirely unsure that those objectives have been met. It continues:

The Council must perform its functions and exercise its powers under this Act so as to—

  • ensure that medical services provided to the public are of the highest possible standards; and
  • ensure that persons practise medicine according to the highest professional standards; and
  • guard against unsafe, incompetent and unethical medical practices.

That sounds fine; they are good objectives. But the concern is that there has been a denial of natural justice and a shocking abuse of process.

This matter has been raised publicly by the community in north-eastern Tasmania over many months. In fact it is now 4½ months, some 19 weeks. There was a public meeting which I attended at the Scottsdale RSL on 15 July. Some resolutions from that meeting are as follows, that ‘the meeting condemned the state government and the Medical Council of Tasmania for their gross mismanagement of the Dr Paul McGinity matter, knowing he was first suspended on 27 March, nearly four months ago, and at great cost and suffering to Dr McGinity, his family and practice and his 3,000 patients and their families in the north-east, and acknowledging the abuse of process and denial of natural justice to Dr McGinity.’ The meeting called for the following:

  • an immediate state parliamentary inquiry into the suspension of Dr McGinity;

The next one is a motion that I put forward, and it was resolved unanimously—that is:

  • the state government should guarantee a locum for Dr McGinity, paid for by the government, to ensure his ongoing practice and the provision of adequate health care in north-east Tasmania while the Medical Council of Tasmania investigation proceeds expeditiously and is finally concluded;
  • the state government acknowledges that this whole debacle adversely affects the reputation of all GPs and the quality of life in north-eastern Tasmania; and
  • John Kirwan, Chief Executive Officer of the Launceston General Hospital, reviews all correspondence and communication between the Medical Council of Tasmania, Primary Health and Dr McGinity.

The meeting was held in Scottsdale and was attended by more than 200 people. Along with me, there were state Liberal MPs for Bass, Peter Gutwein and the Hon. Sue Napier, Jeremy Ball was representing Greens MP Kim Booth, and Dorset Council’s General Manager, John Martin, was there. Michael Ferguson, Liberal candidate for Bass at the state election, was present, and I should also commend Brett Whiteley, shadow minister for health, for his advocacy in this matter. There were no Labor MPs present.

I want to commend the members of the local community group and specifically the convenor, Yasmin Rawnsley, for her tremendous help and assistance in promoting fairness and justice and a fair go for Dr McGinity and his family. In addition, the campaign committee included Jenny Binns, Kevin and Liz Davis, Val and Don Cocker, Brian Khan and they were supported by Michelle McGinity. There have been many, numerous, copious letters to the editor in the local paper, the Examiner, and more recently there has been more support from the Dorset local council.

But what I am disturbed about in particular is that today I have been advised by Dr McGinity that the situation has gone from bad to worse. He has confirmed this in an email to me and, again, verbally to me tonight to confirm that of the 23 alleged complaints from the medical council, eight were unnamed and then withdrawn and now there are 11. Of those remaining, they are all from the Department of Health and Human Services. None, according to Dr McGinity, are from patients or so-called victims and their families. And when I say ‘so-called victims and their families’ the front page of the Examiner on 19 May said:

SCOTTSDALE’S Dr Paul McGinity yesterday denied seven patients are dead because of his diagnosis, management or treatment.

It goes on:

For the first time the council said its investigation would examine 23 claims, including Dr McGinity’s emergency treatment of seven patients who are now dead.

This type of damage to the reputation of Dr McGinity is outrageous! He has been condemned before there has even been a fair go or a fair trial or a proper investigation to get to the bottom of these matters. I feel very concerned.

He has confirmed with me today that he is investing, at a cost to himself, $7½ thousand per week to pay for locums, which is caused as a result of the commitments that are required by the medical council. He must have locums to operate. That is $7½ thousand per week; $120,000 is the total cost over the past 19 weeks since 27 March. So he is already paying a financial penalty. This is being imposed by the medical council without a fair trial or proper investigation to get to the bottom of this. He has clearly been defamed and this is a serious concern to me and to members of the community. We need to get to the bottom of it and fast.

I have been advised that he has had to put off eight staff this week, including a practice manager, five receptionists, a cleaner and a doctor. He is operating out of Derby, Scottsdale and Bridport. In terms of his receptionists, there are two in Derby, two in Scottsdale and one in Bridport who cannot work this week. His practice has closed this week because he has not been able to obtain a locum. He has expressed this in very clear terms in an email to me. He says:

Last Thursday this week’s locum cancelled his commitment to this week, and therefore we have been let down. The medical council has been evasive in advising us whether we should open for at least 18 hours under these circumstances, which were beyond our control. Of course we had forward bookings for both myself and the locum. These have had to be cancelled.

This is unfair. The practice has closed, he has been financially penalised and his reputation is being damaged again and again. When will it end? The Medical Council needs to report and provide an answer.

In these matters the AMA has been supportive. I commend the AMA and ask it to continue its support with that of the local community. On the initial suspension, the AMA said that it was very concerned that any doctor would be suspended without prior notice and without any opportunity to immediately answer to any of the complaints that have been made by the Medical Council. So you can see, Mr President, that it is a very serious matter. I raise this in the Senate because of the seriousness of it. There are 3,000 patients and healthcare services in north-eastern Tasmania at risk. This is important for the people of Bass. They need proper and vigorous representation. (Time expired)