SICK TO DEATH by Hedley Thomas


A Manipulative Surgeon and a Health System in Crisis—a Disaster Waiting to Happen
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A richly peopled but wordy account of a breakdown in the health system in Queensland, Australia, and of the cover-up that followed.

Thomas, an award-winning investigative journalist for the Brisbane Courier-Mail, exposes ugly details concerning the management of Bundaberg Base Hospital, where profits took clear precedence over patients. When Dr. Jayant Patel, an Indian physician trained in the United States, came to work at the hospital in 2003, he had already been disciplined by medical authorities in New York and Oregon. These reprimands, however, were overlooked at Bundaberg, where he was quickly made a director of surgery. Described variously as arrogant, reckless, a liar and a megalomaniac, Patel performed surgeries way beyond his competence, and, astonishingly, even refused to wash his hands, leading to the death or serious injury of numerous patients. Hospital administrators, happy with the revenue he was generating and with the reduction in the hospital’s surgical waiting lists, dismissed the warnings of Toni Hoffman, a nurse who witnessed the havoc created by Patel. Hoffman turned whistleblower, Thomas’ articles exposed the situation and Patel, also known as Dr. Death, fled the country. Two state inquiries revealed the official cover-up, fueling public outrage and leading to increased hospital funding and reforms in Queensland healthcare. Into his narrative of the cover-ups and the investigations Thomas weaves Patel’s own story and the individual stories of several patients that he maimed or killed. The cast of characters is overwhelming, but a front-of-the-book overview of the Queensland health system helps to sort them all out and to clarify their role in events. The principal problem—aside from Thomas’s penchant for including a myriad of details that add color to the story but halt the narrative flow—is geography, for a crisis in the Queensland healthcare system is likely to be of only marginal interest to American readers.

A thoroughgoing expose of an appalling situation, but primarily for an Australian audience.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2007
ISBN: 978-1-74114-881-7
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Allen & Unwin/Trafalgar
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2007