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Whistleblowing Women

Australian women who blow the whistle on corruption in their workplaces.

Jo-anne Barber : a Whistleblowing Woman in Queensland Health and the Medical Board of Queensland.

19 March 2012 : Jo-anne Barber, a former senior investigator for the Medical Board of Queensland alongside Independent Member for Burnett, Rob Messenger presented the Crime and Misconduct Commission with documents alleging some doctors in Queensland are putting their patients at risk.

Ms Barber lodged documents under the Public Interest Disclosure Act that allege in a number of cases that doctors employed by Queensland Health have caused serious harm to patients, and in one case resulted in death.

Ms Barber says the documents she presented to the CMC relate to cases as recent as 2010.

"In particular, one case where a lady had her life support turned off by a doctor, without her permission and against her wishes, and died some hours later."

"That doctor is still working on the Gold Coast.

Ms Barber says she has a wealth of evidence.

Ms Barber says that Queensland Health, and the Medical Board that internally investigated the matters, "was dysfunctional and not able to meet its obligations under the legislation to protect the public".

Ms Barber says she's speaking out now because she believes people in Queensland are at risk.

Independent MP Rob Messenger says he spoke to the media before going to the CMC because he has serious concerns over the CMC's ability to properly investigate the allegations.

"There's a question mark over the integrity and the honesty over the CMC - but they're all we've got.

Queensland Health Minister Geoff Wilson said in his statement that Queensland Health and the Medical Board are not the bodies that matters like this should be referred to.

"If there is anything to be investigated, it should have been provided to the Health Quality Complaints Commission (HQCC)."

Robina Cosser says : Whistleblowers are often given this sort of run-around.

Government departments will tell you that your complaint is not their responsibility and to tell somebody else.

This seems to be a delaying and 'wearing you out' and 'drowning you in paperwork' and 'making it too late for you to complain' strategy.

If there is anything to be investigated, and if the HQCC is the body to whom it should be reported, Queensland Health, The Medical Board of Queensland and the CMC should themselves pass it to the HQCC.

Listen to Steve Austin's full interview with Rob Messenger and Joanne Barber here.

More allegations about Queensland doctors, Emma Sykes, ABC, 19 March 2012 :

Jo-Anne Barber tells Daniel Bateman that she has given the Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) more than 30 hours of taped evidence.

20 March 2012 : Among Jo-Anne Barber's disclosures to the Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) is an alleged cover-up of matters arising from the investigation into the closure of Townsville Hospital's cardio-thoracic unit in 2008.

Ms Barber led the then Medical Board of Queensland's initial investigation and has presented the CMC with evidence alleging:

A surgeon in training was causing serious wounds to patients

Complaints about this surgeon being ignored by senior doctors

The investigation unit was woefully under-resourced

There was a culture among department officials in ensuring complaints were not seriously dealt with

Ms Barber told the Townsville Bulletin she had provided the CMC with more than 30 hours of recorded one-on-one interviews with hospital staff, testimonies and several documents gathered during her investigation into the cardio-thoracic unit crisis.

She alleged these serious matters had been covered up by Queensland Health.

"With the Medical Board, the way that they dealt with this was, 'well, if we don't have any resources, we'll just let it go away on its own. Leave Health to do what they do and at the end of the day, let's just hope that we can get rid of it'," she said.

"Well, we did, because by the time they had finished (the investigation), the surgeon at the centre of these allegations had harmed God knows how many patients."

Rob Messenger, the Independent Member for Burnett, said he would be calling for a Royal Commission if the CMC does not investigate Ms Barber's allegations.

Mr Messenger initially revealed allegations of 'official' misconduct and cover-ups of botched operations at Townsville Hospital's cardio-thoracic surgical service in State Parliament in February, 2008, after he was approached by another whistleblower nurse.

He passed a CD recording of a 30-minute interview with the nurse and other documents to the CMC.

Mr Messenger said he had since learnt none of this evidence was passed on to Ms Barber, while she was leading the investigation into the cardiac unit crisis.

Former medical investigator calls for CMC inquiry , Daniel Bateman, 20 March 2012 :

Jo Barber tells Des Houghton that Queensland families are not told how their loves ones have died.

24 March 2012 : Jo Barber, Queensland's leading medical investigator, this week gave the Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) the name of the Gold Coast doctor who allegedly turned off the oxygen to a gravely ill woman who nurses said was still conscious.

The woman had explicitly asked for time to say goodbye to her family and accept her fate.

The doctor is still practising despite three "significant" complaints against him brought by fellow doctors and corroborated by the nurses.

The CMC has begun an investigation.

Jo Barber told Des Houghton of The Courier-Mail that families are not told how their loved ones died.

Jo Barber discovered by accident that a doctor she was investigating had eight complaints made against him to the Health Quality Complaints Commission (HQCC).

But the commission failed to notify the medical board.

"The agencies distrusted each other and there was infighting," Barber says.

Barber has sought whistleblower protection after contacting hospital campaigner Rob Messenger, the independent Member for Burnett.

Keen to follow up cases of malpractice, Barber joined Queensland Health's Ethical Standards Unit.

She quickly learned its prime function seemed to be to do everything possible to protect health ministers from political embarrassment.

She believes incompetent doctors are still operating because watchdog agencies are largely ineffective.

"It's so easy for doctors to hide their errors," Barber says.

"Doctors learn to never write anything down they can be hanged for later.

"Queensland Health claims it has a policy of openness and transparency but it is simply not true.

"If they can hide something, they will hide it."

While she remains a Queensland Health employee, Barber believes she will be made to suffer for speaking out.

"I'll never get a promotion," she says.

"My career is now at an end. There is nothing in it for me to go public - but someone has to."

Ill-practice under the microscope, Des Houghton, The Courier-Mail, 24 March 2012 :

Jo Barber's concerns about the Queensland CMC / PCMC investigation process.

1 May 2012 : Jo Barber claims the medical regulator has allowed dodgy doctors to work in Queensland's state hospital system, leading to patient harm.

The Queensland Parliamentary Crime and Misconduct Committee (PCMC) decided to refer the matter to the Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC).

Ms Barber has already said she didn’t trust the CMC because it had previously been involved in some of the claims but did not act.

Today the CMC said it had engaged retired Queensland judge Richard Chesterman to look into the claims to see if they warranted an investigation.

CMC chairman Ross Martin said the matter was not yet at the stage of formal investigation and was simply an assessment.

Mr Martin said he met with Ms Barber yesterday.

"I understand that whistleblowers can sometimes be mistrustful," he said in a statement today.

Robina Cosser says -

Yes, Mr Martin, we whistleblowers have learned to be mistrustful.

We have learned that, in Queensland, CMC / Public Service investigations (or 'reviews' or whatever other name they use for their process), the people you have complained about get to choose the judge.

And the Judge may be an 'old mate' of the person / group of people supposedly being investigated.

And the people you have complained about also get to choose the documents that will be considered - sometimes mid-way through the investigation.

Even if the investigator knows that there are documents that are supportive of your case, he or she can be instructed not to consider those documents.

And falsified documents can be secretly produced and placed on the file.

And their contents accepted as facts.

So - Yes, Mr Martin, we whistleblowers have learned to be mistrustful.

"My concern was that when I spoke to the chair ... about the process they would use to do that, he was unwilling or unable to tell me what that process was," Ms Barber said.

Judge to probe dodgy doctor claims, AAP, The Brisbane Times, 01 May 2012 :

Jo Barber will be given special leave from the public service.

22 May 2012 : Jo Barber will be given paid leave until she returns to work in the public service.

Health Minister Lawrence Springborg says Ms Barber was previously on leave after a workers compensation claim.

"I do think that it's fair that Ms Barber at least be provided with special leave that is paid at the band at she was employed in the public sector, until the issue of appropriate return to work and all those things have actually been addressed," he said.

The Parliamentary Crime and Misconduct Committee (PCMC) asked the Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) in late April to investigate the allegations made by Ms Barber.

On 21 May 2012 the CMC said it had given the PCMC two interim reports about the alleged medical malpractice.

The CMC had referred the allegations about a Gold Coast doctor to police.

Retired Judge Richard Chesterman is continuing with his assessment of the remaining aspects of Ms Barber's allegations.

Whistleblower granted paid leave amid doctor malpractice probe, ABC News, 22 May 2012,

A Sunshine Coast doctor and four nurses make "explosive" allegations to Jo Barber and Rob Messenger.

28 May 2012 : Jo Barber and Rob Messenger heard "explosive" allegations of corruption, malpractice and mismanagement during a visit to the Sunshine Coast.

The claims were made by a Coast doctor and four nurses during nine hours of discussions.

"The allegations are certainly worthy of more investigation," Mr Messenger said.

Jo Barber noted there were particular concerns about mental health services in Nambour - both public and private - with allegations made of mistreatment of patients.

Staff who attempted to raise concerns claim to have been threatened with reprisals.

Ms Barber suggested that some professionals had been threatened with jail if they spoke out, and other casual staff threatened with cuts to their work hours.

Mr Messenger said the Coast professionals who came forward with their stories expressed a sense of hopelessness about their situations and were concerned that their matters had not been followed up previously.

"All of these people had taken their concerns to HQCC (Health Quality Complaints Commission) and AHPRA (Australian Health Practitioners Authority) and they'd all been covered up, they'd all been given the runaround," he said.

Mr Messenger will today give details of the Sunshine Coast concerns to former judge Richard Chesterman QC, who has been appointed by the Crime and Misconduct Commission to investigate claims across Queensland of doctor malpractice.

"If we get the Royal Commission, I guarantee there will be former politicians, senior health bureaucrats and health administrators who end up in jail," he said.

Mr Messenger and Ms Barber said medical professionals who had concerns would be protected under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2010.

(Editor's Note : Well, that is the theory, anyway.)

Health cover-up claims, Richard Bruinsma, Fraser Coast Chronicle, 28 May 2012 :

Jo Barber sends the CMC a data disk of allegations made by Sunshine Coast medical professionals.

25 May 2012 : Jo Barber, Queensland Health whistleblower, sent the Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commission a data disk yesterday containing 4.8 hours of interviews she conducted at Buderim on the weekend.

Allegations raised by Sunshine Coast medical professionals include -

* A drug-addicted patient was prescribed and allowed to take possession at one time of 900 dexamphetamine tablets with a street value of $50,000.

* Doctors having s_x with patients.

* Mental health patients being punished with electroshock therapy or painful injections of stupefying drugs.

* Serious assaults on nurses.

* Vilification of whistleblowers.

* Extraordinary prescription levels for some controlled drugs.

The allegations relate to a number of hospitals and medical practitioners.

The Sunshine Coast Daily on Friday reported that doctors and nurses feared at least 12 people had died as a result of inappropriate treatment.

Member for Nicklin Peter Wellington said since then he had spoken to three local whistleblowers who came to him because their local members of parliament had failed to act.

Sunshine Coast Private Hospital, which over the weekend identified itself as of interest to whistleblowers, said yesterday it had responded appropriately to complaints it had received from staff.

Patient 'given $50,000 in drugs', Bill Hoffman, Sunshine Coast Daily, 29 May 2012 :

Lawrence Springborg says yawning gaps in the Queensland Health complaints process remain unresloved.

31 March 2013 : Jo-Anne Barber took allegations of widespread medical malpractice to the Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commission in 2012.

Ms Barber's allegations were reviewed by former Supreme Court judge Richard Chesterman, QC.

Richard Chesterton recommended further investigations of unresolved cases going back five years.

Queensland Health Minister Lawrence Springborg said he had been frustrated that he couldn't get clear answers to the allegations made by Ms Barber and others, so he had ordered an independent review by senior barrister and former Fitzgerald inquiry investigator Jeffrey Hunter, SC.

Jeffrey Hunter has now reported back to Health Minister Springborg - and six Queensland doctors could face criminal charges for allegedly killing and maiming patients in major medical blunders over the past six years.

A total of 23 cases have been referred to Queensland police.

Most of the allegations are directed at doctors at private and public hospitals at Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Toowoomba, Gympie and Cairns.

Several patients allegedly suffered unnecessary amputations.

Patients have allegedly been horribly disfigured by cosmetic surgery.

Doctors with mental health and drug problems have allegedly been permitted to treat patients.

One doctor alone has been named in 11 cases of criminal negligence relating to surgical procedures including angioplasty, a procedure to widen blocked blood vessels.

"In each case, my opinion is that the allegations involve breaches of such magnitude as to potentially amount to breaches of criminal law," Mr Hunter said in his report.

Mr Hunter said he had "cast a wide net" and examined 3318 files, which were whittled down to 703, and then 89.

Mr Hunter said some allegations had been outside his terms of reference.

"In others, it was plain that although negligence and errors of judgment had occurred, the practitioner's conduct fell short of amounting to criminal negligence," the report said.

"Many files related to practitioners who had mental health and substance abuse issues, but who were not alleged to have caused any harm to a patient."

Mr Springborg said he was especially disappointed by lengthy delays following up complaints.

"Yawning gaps in the complaints process remain unresolved in my opinion. Very real cases have been allowed to slip through the cracks." he said.

Mr Springborg said the accountability of the complaints mechanism was also on trial.

Bungling doctors could face criminal charges for allegedly killing and maiming patients, Des Houghton, The Sunday Mail, 31 March 2013

20 April 2013 : Jo Barber, Toni Hoffman and Christine Cameron seem to have won!

Toni Hoffman, Christine Cameron and Jo Barber - three courageous Whistleblowing Women who dared to tell the truth about failures in the Queensland medical system that caused harm to patients in their care.

These three women were brave enough and impolite enough to point out the Queensland Health watchdogs had no teeth.

The three whistleblowers all suffered for speaking out.

They continue to suffer.

But by doing so, they did much more than provide comfort to the walking wounded and families who lost loved ones to medical blundering.

These three whistleblowers succeeded in changing the system.

The entire Queensland Board of the Medical Board of Australia will be axed!

Queensland will get a specialist health ombudsman.

Health Minister Lawrence Springborg and AMA chief Dr Alex Markwell used the same phrase recently when they said many genuine complaints "fell through the cracks".

Now the Queensland Parliament has been told that five doctors face prosecution.

Lawrence Springborg this week moved to demolish the Queensland Board of the Medical Board of Australia, one of the bodies which investigates complaints.

An investigation by the Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commission and a series of inquiries and reviews by retired judges, doctors and nurses all found evidence of wrongdoing.

Cases of doctors engaging in conduct ranging from criminal negligence to gross incompetence and laziness were revealed in documents tabled in Parliament.

The inquiries all pointed in the same direction: Queenslanders have been let down by the system, public and private.

The latest inquiry made some astonishing findings.

An investigative panel headed by barrister and former intensive-care nurse Kim Forrester reported that in one case it took 2368 days, or nearly 6½ years, to reach a decision following a complaint.

The Forrester report tabled in Parliament said 60 per cent of the files it examined were not handled in a manner that was timely and/or appropriate and/or in compliance with legislative objectives.

Give Lawrence Springborg his due. He acted swiftly.

Previous health ministers who must have known of many of these gross failures either turned a blind eye, buried their heads in the sand or shoved the cases in the too-hard basket - pick your own cliche.

Springborg said victims of medical mishaps had been treated appallingly.

The Forrester report was tabled alongside the findings of senior lawyer Jeffrey Hunter, who recommended that police consider criminal charges against six medical practitioners.

"These reports paint a deeply disturbing picture of dysfunctionality in the handling of health-related complaints," Springborg said.

"In a majority of cases, delays meant that doctors . . . continued to practise without their competency being assessed and in the absence of safeguards, supervision or monitoring."

The Forrester report also was a stinging rebuke of the role of the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency, a federal body.

The Forrester panel found clear evidence that, in processes followed by AHPRA, the Medical Board did not provide adequate protection for the public.

Mr Springborg said work on the two reviews was delayed when AHPRA and the Medical Board initially declined to release the relevant files due to confidentiality and privacy concerns.

Mr Springborg has expressed doubts about the federal agency's transparency and accountability.

State takes the lead by exposing quacks in our health system, Des Houghton, The Courier-Mail, 20 April 2013 :

bad Health Queensland

Bad Health Queensland is a new website that has been established to support Queensland Health employees :