Australian state rejects deal with 'Dr. E. Coli'

An Australian attorney general has refused a deal under which an American surgeon dubbed 'Dr. E. Coli' would have voluntarily returned to Queensland to face charges in several patient deaths.

An Australian attorney general has refused a deal under which an American surgeon dubbed "Dr. E. Coli" would have voluntarily returned to Queensland to face charges in several patient deaths.

Queensland's attorney general Linda Lavarch said Thursday she declined the offer from Jayant Patel's lawyersbecause its conditions included that the surgeon be allowed to return to the United States after a preliminary hearing and before a trial.

Patel faces multiple charges of manslaughter, fraud and causing grievous bodily harm after a state inquiry found that he may have contributed directly to the deaths of at least 13 patients. They took place between 2003 and 2005 during his tenure at Bundaberg Base Hospital, 360 kilometres north of Brisbane.

The 56-year-old fled Australia in April 2005, soon after a nurse made public allegations of his negligence, andis currently living in Oregon.

Lavarch told ABC Radio in Australia that she and state Premier Peter Beattie refused to sign off on the deal offered in September because it would have amounted to special treatment.

"I believe it was not in the public interest that he be permitted to come and go from the jurisdiction as he pleased … that we were at the mercy of his good grace," she said.

She said her office made a counteroffer that would avoid a lengthy extradition process by promising no additional charges against Patel should he return to Brisbane voluntarily.

Government blasted for rejecting deal

StateOpposition Leader Jeff Sweeney lashed out at the government's decision to reject the deal during a parliamentary session on Thursday.

"The government's response … has been to protect themselves," said Sweeney. "They care about themselves at the cost and the expense of the patients and the people who they should be caring about."

Beryl Crosby of the Bundaberg Patients Support Group also condemned the decision.

"We want answers on why the hell they have not let him come back voluntarily," she said. "They had a way to bring him back and they let it slip away.… They have made a political decision at the expense of the patients. It was purely to save Beattie's hide."

Nurses hid patients from doctor

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 disclosethat he had been disciplined for negligence by medical boards in those states, and hospital officials have publicly differed onwho was responsible for reference checking.

Nurses testified at the inquiry that they had referredto him as "Dr. E. Coli" because many of his patients came down with infections and even hid 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.

Former patients have filed a class-action lawsuit.

Can't work as doctor in U.S. until charges resolved

In July, the Oregon Board of Medical Examiners unanimously approved an agreement with Patel that his medical license will remain suspended until he proves "that the criminal and administrative process against him in Australia is complete," with all penalties and conditions satisfied.

The agreement effectively bars Patel from applying for a medical license anywhere in the United States.

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 license in September 2000, banning him from performing certain types of operations and forcing him to seek a second opinion in complicated cases.

With files from the Associated Press & the Australian Broadcasting Corporation