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Health Bulletin 27 June 2019

The latest insights from our Health Law team.

In this edition:

Preventing the Heartbreak of Stillbirths 

High Court decision regarding sperm donors creates uncertainty

Treatment of teen who died in dirt at rodeo 'inhumane', coroner finds

Doctor 'failed to mention financial interest in device' that harmed many women 

Queensland Day marks the next step in building safety reform


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Preventing the Heartbreak of Stillbirths

The Victorian Government has recently launched the 'Safer Baby Collaborative', a ground breaking new initiative aimed at reducing preventable stillborn births and raising public awareness of stillbirths.

The program, facilitated by Safer Care Victoria in partnership with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, sets a goal of reducing the rate of stillbirths in Victoria by 20 per cent by 2022. To achieve this, it will provide support and resources to 20 maternity services in Victoria, with a view to educating Victorians and raising awareness on five overall areas of focus: the importance of fetal movements, diagnosis and management of fetal growth restriction, smoking during pregnancy, safe maternal sleeping positions, and appropriate timing of birth to mitigate unintended consequences or harm.

Last year, Safer Care Victoria launched their far-reaching 'Movements Matter' campaign aimed at improving women's awareness of babies' movements and dispelling common myths. The Safer Baby Collaborative will build on the success of Movements Matter to ultimately raise community awareness of stillbirth risk factors.

Read more about the launch of the Safer Baby Collaborative here.


High Court decision regarding sperm donors creates uncertainty

A recent landmark decision in the High Court has created uncertainty surrounding sperm donor’s parental relationships in Australia. The decision in Masson v Parsons [2019] HCA 21 was handed down on 19 June 2019 and has prompted calls for legislative clarity.

In this case, a man who provided sperm to his long term friend, with the intention of helping to support and care for the child was legally found to be the child’s father.  This dispute arose when the child’s biological mother and same sex partner tried to take the child to New Zealand.

The parties in this case are distinguishable from other donor relationships in that the child’s donor has had a very close relationship with her throughout her entire life.  The donor’s name is on the child’s birth certificate, he provided financial support, he worked in her schools canteen and the child referred to him as “daddy”.  Although distinguishable, the case brings about questions as to what level of contact and support constitutes a parent.  Furthermore, it has raised concerns amongst donors who do not want to be a legal parent, but have contact with their biological child. 

Six of the seven High Court judges stated that the word ‘parent’ should be given its natural and ordinary meaning and that whether someone qualified as a parent was a question of fact and degree.

The court said it wasn’t necessary to decide whether a man who did no more than provide his semen to facilitate an artificial conception procedure fell within the meaning of parent, which is what has sparked such uncertainty.

To read the High Court decision, click here.

Treatment of teen who died in dirt at rodeo 'inhumane', coroner finds

A Queensland coroner has released a finding that the death of a teenager at an event in remote Queensland, 300km north of Cairns, was ‘inhumane’ due to the lack of appropriate medical response.

Holly Winta Brown died from an undiagnosed condition at the Laura Rodeo and Campcraft event in June 2015.  She had complained to her father of chest pain in the morning of 27 June 2015 and had gone to lie down in her tent.Her father was unable to wake her some time later and an off-duty nurse commenced CPR as triple-0 was called at approximately 9.10 am.Staff from the local primary health clinic, who were fatigued from working a double shift, arrived in the meantime with a modest amount of equipment, approximately 45-50 minutes after Holly entered cardiac arrest.

The ambulance took an hour and twenty minutes to arrive.A helicopter to Cairns Hospital arrived fifteen minutes later. Holly was pronounced dead at 11.44 am by the helicopter escort doctor.

Coroners’ have a mandate to make findings as to the cause of death and also to make recommendations to prevent similar deaths happening in the future.

Coroner Wilson recommended that:

  1. reform be considered for mass gathering events in Queensland and specifically to establish a standardised protocol to provide for an out of hospital emergency medical response.The protocol should address the best practice standards in:

    • early emergency response;
    • early CPR and defibrillation; and
    • access to advanced emergency care within 8 minutes of cardiac arrest, and

  2. any process which is implemented is known by Holly’s name.

The coroner’s findings can be read here.


Doctor 'failed to mention financial interest in device' that harmed many women

The NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (Tribunal) has prosecuted a complaint against retired urogynaecologist Dr Peter Petros in relation to his involvement in implanting a medical device (the Tissue Fixation System decide) into patients suffering from utero-vaginal conditions such as prolapse.

It was alleged that Dr Petros:

  1. failed to inform the hospital, surgeons and patients that he held a financial interest in the Tissue Fixation System Advice;
  2. failed to ensure patients were aware when the device was taken off the Therapeutic Goods Administration register in 2014;
  3. mislead the Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) about his and his family’s financial interest in the device, including a failure to disclose substantial loans when asked; and
  4. failed to give adequate handover to a receiving doctor in 2013 for a patient who had major complications from surgery in which the Tissue Fixation Device System was used.

The Tribunal found all allegations against Dr Petros proved, including that they amounted to professional misconduct within the meaning of the National Law.  The Tribunal ordered that if Dr Petros had still been registered, it would have cancelled his registration for two years.

Read the HCCC’s media release here and access the full Tribunal decision here.


Queensland Day marks the next step in building safety reform

Queensland Minister for Housing and Public Works, Mick de Brenni has opened a 4 week consultation period from 6 June 2019 to reform the mechanical services licensing framework governing commercial air-conditioning and medical systems at hospitals, aged care facilities, large office buildings and shopping centres.

Minister de Brenni intends to design and introduce legislation “to create a safer, fairer and more sustainable construction industry” to, ultimately, save lives, recalling the tragic death of an infant in a New South Wales Hospital in 2016 who was mistakenly given the wrong medical gas.

Minister de Brenni foresees this may result in industry service providers:

  1. having their skill level assessed;
  2. being required to undertake further training; and
  3. obtaining new licences.

To provide feedback on the mechanical services licensing framework, you can complete the survey here by 5 July 2019, and read more about the reform here.

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