The Queensland Government could face compensation claims from the thousands of people who had to have HIV and hepatitis tests because the former health ombudsman took 16 months to advise the health department of serious infection risks at a Brisbane dental clinic.
Brisbane compensation law specialist Mark O’Connor says patients of the dental centre who may have suffered ongoing post traumatic stress caused by the mental upheaval they suffered could have grounds to pursue compensation from the Queensland Government.
The issue is in the news again and is reviving the ordeal of several thousand patients of Gap Free Smile at Carina who had to have HIV and hepatitis tests over several months because the previous health ombudsman took a year and a half to notify the Health Department of serious infection risks at the dental centre.
Mark O’Connor, a Director with Bennett & Philp Lawyers, says the mental anguish of a six month period in which people suffered the anguish of whether they were infected with HIV or hepatitis could have created ongoing trauma to permanently affect their lives.
A Queensland Health investigation found former health ombudsman Leon Atkinson-MacEwen “negligent” and “placed the public health and safety at risk” in 2016 for taking 16 months to raise the problem with the dental clinic.
“If a person learns that they have a risk of contracting HIV and need to have HIV tests, it would not be surprising if they develop some post-traumatic stress symptoms,” Mark says.
“This trauma is similar to what often happens with police or medical workers who may suffer needle-prick injuries and believe they are at risk of a terrible disease. The waiting until they get the all-clear preys on their minds and can derail their lives.”
“I’ve had cases where people endure months of agony before being given the all-clear. During that time they fear they may die soon, not see their children grow up and see all their life plans destroyed. It can cause severe trauma” he says.
The dental clinic scandal dates back to June 2015, when former Health Ombudsman Mr Atkinson-MacEwen received information about poor infection control at Gap Free Smile.
Dental trays were reused and equipment at the clinic was not sterilised, later tests showed. Mr Atkinson-MacEwen reportedly did not provide that information to Queensland’s Chief Health Officer, Dr Jeannette Young, until November 2016.
A dentist was suspended and the clinic ordered to close until the hygiene issues were resolved.
“Although Queensland has strict time limits in which to lodge compensation claims, claimants have a 12 month window to take action, if they become aware of new relevant information regarding their potential claims.
“But people might be able to retrieve their rights if they see, by way of a story in the media, that the reason they were exposed to the risk of an infection was because the Health Ombudsman did not take the necessary steps to report the failures of this dental clinic in a reasonable time,” Mark says.
“Queensland Health and thus the State Government is vulnerable here because the former Health Ombudsman failed to report a health issue that should have been reported within a few days at most, but was not reported for a year and a half. Why is beyond anyone’s comprehension,” he says.
Queensland Health reportedly last inspected the dental clinic in June 2017 and was satisfied there was no longer a risk to patients.
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