MELBOURNE: Indian-origin surgeon Jayant Patel, dubbed ‘Dr Death’ for botching up a string of operations, was on Thursday sentenced to seven years in jail on manslaughter charges for killing three patients and causing permanent harm to another.
Sixty-year-old Patel, now an US citizen, was convicted by a Brisbane jury two days earlier on three counts of manslaughter, while serving as a surgeon in a Queensland hospital between 2003-2005.
The sentence was handed out by Mr Justice John Byrne of the Queensland state’s Supreme Court in Brisbane and comes 25 years after questions were first raised about the doctor’s competency to perform some surgeries.
Patel’s legal team is preparing to appeal against the conviction and under Queensland law prisoners can apply for parole after they serve 50 per cent of their sentence.
Arguing for a maximum sentence of ten years, the prosecutor Mr Ross Martin said there could be no worse case of criminal medical negligence, while the defence pleaded for a suspended sentence with no prison time. Mr Martin also argued Patel had a history of professional misconduct charges in the USA dating back to 1982.
Sentencing him judge Mr Justice John Bryne observed, “The community denounces your repeated serious disregard for the welfare of the four patients.” The travails of Patel, who has also been labelled ‘killer surgeon’ by media here are not over as some of his other patients have threatened to move a class action suit against him.
The case of “Dr Death” gained an immense interest across Australia and has prompted Rural Doctors Association of Queensland (RDAQ) warning that Patel trial has made it harder to attract doctors to the state. RDAQ spokesman, Dr Dan Halliday said one of the legacies of the case has been more stringent vetting of overseas-trained doctors.
He said about 50 per cent of doctors in rural and regional areas are from overseas and the extra checks on their credentials have made some doctors look elsewhere. “I know of a couple of instances specifically where I believe suitably trained doctors have gone elsewhere, mainly due to the red tape that has been associated with them practicing in Queensland,” he said.