Surgeon sentenced to seven years in jail for patient deaths

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 06 July 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c3646
  1. Bob Burton
  1. 1Hobart

    A former surgeon at a Queensland hospital, Dr Jayant Patel (BMJ 2005;330:985, doi:10.1136/bmj.330.7498.985; BMJ 2008;337:a1065, doi:10.1136/bmj.a1065), has been sentenced to seven years in jail for killing three of his patients and causing grievous bodily harm to another.

    Dr Patel, who fled Australia in 2005 after public uproar over his performance while working at the Bundaberg Base Hospital in Queensland, was extradited from the US in July 2008 (BMJ 2008:336:634; doi:10.1136/bmj.39520.479329.DB) to face 16 charges including manslaughter, causing grievous bodily harm, and fraud.

    After a 14 week trial, the jury found Dr Patel guilty on all four charges before them. He is yet to be tried on a further grievous bodily harm charge and eight counts of fraud.

    In sentencing Dr Patel, Queensland Supreme Court judge John Byrne stated that the jury found that Dr Patel’s decision to perform a colectomy on a patient who later died was unnecessary and involved “criminal negligence.”

    Judge Byrne also stated that Dr Patel’s decision to perform an oesophagectomy on one high risk patient who subsequently died was “criminally negligent” and the same operation on another patient resulted in surgical bleeding that proved fatal. In another case, the judge stated that it seemed that Dr Patel removed the bowel of a patient on the “perception” that he was suffering from colon cancer even though samples he had taken during a colonoscopy were benign.

    The judge said that had Dr Patel sought a second opinion in each of the cases “the indications are that another surgeon would have advised against them all.”

    Judge Byrne stated that the jury found that Dr Patel’s decisions to operate in each instance “was so thoroughly reprehensible, involving such grave moral guilt, that you should be punished as a criminal.” The judge sentenced Dr Patel to concurrently serve seven years for each manslaughter offence and three years for the grievous bodily harm charge. He will be eligible for parole in three and a half years.

    The six year legal skirmish about Dr Patel’s surgical performance (BMJ 2005;330:1468, doi:10.1136/bmj.330.7506.1468-b; BMJ 2005;331:70, doi:10.1136/bmj.331.7508.70-f; BMJ 2005;331:536, doi:10.1136/bmj.331.7516.536-b) may continue with his lawyers considering an appeal over whether Queensland criminal law allowed the jury to consider the doctor’s decision to recommend the surgery to patients or only the surgery itself.


    Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c3646