Australian officials to seek criminal charges against 'Dr. E. Coli'
Australia officials are set to issue an arrest warrant Wednesday against the American surgeon accused of contributing to the deaths of several patients at a Queensland hospital.
Jayant Patel, born in India and now a U.S. citizen, has been dubbed "Dr. E. Coli" and "Dr. Death" in Australia after allegations came to light concerning his tenure at Bundaberg Base Hospital in Queensland.
Queensland director of public prosecutions Leanne Clare said in a statement Tuesday that the specific charges wouldn't be detailed until the warrants were issued, but it has been reported previously in Australia that they will include counts of manslaughter, grievous bodily harm, negligent acts causing harm and fraud.
An inquiry found that Patel may have contributed directly to the deaths of at least 13 patients. They took place between 2003 and 2005 at the hospital about 320 kilometres north of Brisbane.
The 56-year-old fled Australia in April 2005, soon after a nurse made public allegations of his negligence, and is living in Oregon. He is effectively barred from applying for a medical licence anywhere in the U.S after a decision made by the Oregon state medical board in July.
Queensland Premier Peter Beattie urged patience this week over what he said could be a lengthy extradition process and said he wanted to make sure officials proceeded fairly and that Patel was treated with the presumption of innocence.
Hospital officials had hired Patel as director of surgery without being aware that he had been barred from conducting surgery by health officials in New York and Oregon.
Patel didn't disclose that he had been disciplined for negligence by medical boards in those states and hospital officials have publicly differed on who was responsible for reference checking.
Nurses testified at the inquiry that they had referred to him as "Dr. E. Coli" because many of his patients came down with infections and that they even resorted to hiding patients from him. Some local media outlets have since labelled him "Dr. Death."
The scandal led to political fallout in Queensland, with the state's health minister resigning three months after Patel fled the country.
The Queensland attorney general's office took heat in September from victims' relatives and politicians when it was revealed that a deal had been rejected that would have seen Patel voluntarily return to face charges, sparing lengthy extradition proceedings.
Officials defended the decision, saying the terms of the deal would have allowed Patel to return to the U.S. after a preliminary hearing and before a trial, bringing too great a risk he wouldn't return.
Beryl Crosby,head of the Bundaberg patients' support group, expressed relief over Tuesday's development.
"It is a significant step," said Crosby. "It's the step that we've all been hoping and praying would come for a long time."
Patel was cited by New York health officials in 1984 for failing to examine patients prior to surgery at Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo.
Oregon officials restricted Patel's licence in September 2000, banning him from performing certain types of operations and forcing him to seek a second opinion in complicated cases.
Patel has repeatedly refused to comment on the case.
With files from the Associated Press and Australian Broadcasting Corporation