Bendigo Health pathology review complete, but findings remain secret

Health Minister Jill Hennessy outside the new Bendigo hospital in November last year. Picture: NONI HYETT
Health Minister Jill Hennessy outside the new Bendigo hospital in November last year. Picture: NONI HYETT

The state government has completed its review of pathology services at Bendigo Health, but has refused to release its findings, drawing criticism from the Coalition and the pathologists union.

Heathcare safety agency Safer Care Victoria recommended “more stringent governance and monitoring arrangements” including the appointment of an infectious disease physician, the establishment of a pathology sub-committee of clinical directors and increased reporting requirements.

Health Minister Jill Hennessy ordered the review in May after senior clinicians at the hospital spoke out about what they saw as a “huge risk” to patients following a move by pathology laboratory operator Australian Clinical Labs to relocate some of its on-site microbiology services to Melbourne.

A Health Department spokesman said it had delivered its recommendations to the hospital on Monday, but neither the department nor Ms Hennessy would be drawn on the details of the investigation’s findings.

Medical Scientists Association of Victoria executive officer Paul Elliott said the union had requested a copy of the report and held concerns that SCV did not enter the laboratory at Bendigo Health or speak to any pathology staff during the investigation.

“They were at no stage in the lab and nor did they at any stage speak to scientists and our scientists have confirmed that on numerous occasions,” he said.

Mr Elliott said the lack of consultation with pathologists left “a gaping hole in the investigation”.

“To use the medical and hospital context, if you were investigating an operation that went wrong or that you had some concerns about, it’s a bit like doing that but without actually talking to any surgeons or going anywhere near the operating theatre,” he said.

“It just beggars belief that you can do a full and thorough investigation without having done that.”

Meanwhile, opposition health spokeswoman Mary Wooldridge called on Ms Hennessy to release the SCV report “immediately”, describing the matter as one of “great concern”.

“It is only appropriate that this report now be released so that everyone can understand the implications of the movement off site and down to Melbourne of these microbiology services,” she said.

“This is an important issue. It has been raised in the context of patient safety, being able to get these results in quick time and also the fact that being able to do them on site in relation to a single cohort of patients has led to identification of clusters of concern that will not have the same capacity to be investigated and identified if the results are down in Melbourne along with those of the whole rest of the state.”

A spokeswoman for Bendigo Health said the hospital was acting on all the recommendations and had already appointed Dr Andrew Mahony as its new infectious diseases physician, while maintaining patient safety was its “number one priority”.

“This is a pioneering role for both Bendigo Health and the region, Dr Mahony will provide expert advice, governance and support to his colleagues,” she said.

“Chief medical officer Dr Humsha Naidoo is confident that as long as enhanced governance and monitoring arrangements are in place and are strictly adhered to and senior medical staff are involved and consulted, the new model will not reduce safety for our patients.”

An Australian Clinical Labs spokeswoman said the company had not been provided with a copy of the report or informed of its recommendations, but said it already had an “extremely detailed” reporting process as part of its contract.

“Clinical Labs can report on all test types in detail and does as part of its reporting and liaison process,” she said.

ACL has previously refuted any suggestion it blocked SVC investigators from entering its lab or speaking with staff.

Ms Hennessy has been contacted for comment.