Druggie abortionist infects 41 women with the druggies' disease

Why was a known druggie allowed to continue in practice?

STATE Health Minister Daniel Andrews has backed his chief health officer over waiting six months to screen more than 1000 patients exposed to a doctor suspected of spreading hepatitis C.

Dr John Carnie revealed on Saturday that the health department had expanded screening to three more clinics as police raided five Melbourne properties, including the Hawthorn home of anaesthetist James Latham Peters.

The broadened screening comes more than six months after a hepatitis C cluster was discovered among patients at Croydon Day Surgery - now called Marie Stopes Maroondah. Forty-one patients at the abortion clinic are suspected of contracting the same strain of hepatitis C as Dr Peters. The affected women were exposed to Dr Peters between January 2008 and December 2009.

Mr Andrews said Dr Carnie was appropriately exercising an "abundance of caution" in moving to screen patients at Dr Peters' former workplaces. He said there were no known cases of hepatitis C at any of the three clinics but could not rule out the possibility other patients had been infected.

"There's no suggestion that anybody that's been treated at those three clinics is hep C positive but in order to be absolutely certain ... he is extending that look back into those three clinics. I think that's an entirely appropriate thing for him to do," Mr Andrews told reporters today.

He said it was appropriate that early investigation focused on known, high risk cases before moving to precautionary screening. "I fully support the approach that the chief health officer has taken. He has dealt appropriately where he has known there is a high risk. "He is now appropriately moving to provide support and reassurance where there is a much, much lower risk ... in order to be safe rather than sorry."

The department has tested more than 3000 patients treated between 2006 and 2009 at the Croydon Day Surgery and is still tracing a further 300 women. Staff are now trying to contact another 1066 female and male patients at three other clinics.

They include 900 patients who attended Fertility Control in East Melbourne between January 2008 and November 2009, 150 from St Albans Endoscopy who were treated between February and September 2008, and 16 who attended the Western Day Surgery in Sunshine in March 2008. No charges have been laid over the infections.

The case is unprecedented in Victoria, presenting challenges for police working out if and how to lay charges related to spreading a disease and for the Department of Health in working out how many patients are affected. Detective Sen-Sgt Paul Robotham said the police were looking for evidence on how the outbreak occurred.

It remains unclear why police waited until yesterday to raid the Croydon clinic. "It's just the nature of the investigation and the appropriate time to conduct those searches," Det Sen-Sgt Robotham said. "I'm not going to make any comment either way as to why it's done now. It's just a tactical decision that it was done today."

Articles including a computer were seized from the Hawthorn home of Dr Peters. Dr Peters reportedly had a history of illicitly injecting himself with painkillers, a conviction for forging prescriptions for pethidine and a charge of possessing child pornography.

"This whole thing has been extremely distressing for the patients concerned, the other doctors concerned, the clinics and the department," Dr Carnie said.


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