Doctor in the gun

by David Fisher / 27 December, 2008
Under investigation by Australian health authorities, disgraced former Wanganui surgeon Roman Hasil is now wanted for further questioning over a 1995 murder

Wanganui remains in the dark about the real impact of rogue surgeon Roman Hasil.

A legal settlement appears imminent in the case of about 30 women who said they had suffered after being treated by the Czech gynaecologist, but questions have emerged around why Wanganui Hospital has never studied the full extent of his surgical failures.

The decision appears especially odd given the information that has come to light since Hasil fled New Zealand.

We now know there were allegations of drunken behaviour at the operating table. Further, accusations of his brutal and crass treatment of female patients stretch back to his time in Australia, where he was fired by one hospital for being drunk on duty and by another for "fiddling the books". Hasil's medical registration was rejected in some states because he made false declarations on application forms.

And then came the discovery that he was jailed in Singapore in 1995 for threatening the second of his three wives, Rose Doyle, with a 30cm carving knife - and that he is a "person of interest" in the murder of Italian backpacker Victoria Cafasso the same year.

Hasil left New Zealand shortly before the March publication of a report by Health and Disability Commissioner Ron Paterson, who found a quarter of the tubal ligations Hasil had performed at Wanganui Hospital in 2005/06 failed: eight of the 32 women were left fertile. It was an extraordinary failure rate for a simple procedure. Six of the eight became pregnant, with some going on to have abortions.

Paterson's report said Hasil's failures extended beyond these procedures. During a visit to her GP, one woman discovered he had removed her ovaries without notice or consent. The Listener found other cases, including a woman who may have had an unnecessary hysterectomy.

Wanganui-based lawyer John Rowan QC, who acts for about 30 women who raised issues over the care they received from Hasil, refuses to comment because negotiations are at "quite a delicate stage".

The fact remains that a full audit of Hasil's work has not been done, and there have been only two reviews of his patients: one showed the extent of sterilisation failure; the other - done by a doctor in late 2006 - examined 20 of his patients.

Paterson's report states that "as a result of the review, [the doctor] expressed concern that for about half of the patients reviewed, his views on management differed quite significantly from that advised by Dr Hasil".

If one audit of 20 patients identified issues with half of them, should the entire patient list be reviewed? If 25% of the sterilisations he performed failed, what else might have gone wrong?

Whanganui District Health Board member and surgeon Clive Solomon says these are questions that must be asked. "I have not seen such an audit and I don't believe one has been done. It really is a can of worms and one that should be opened no matter how difficult it is."

Not so, says board chairwoman Kate Joblin, who believes the required audits have been done. "The board is very focused on looking forward."

Mayor Michael Laws, also a board member, is of a similar view. "There is no indication of clinical irregularities that have come to us. We've moved on. No one died. That does need to be pointed out. And there were a lot worse cases of medical misadventure all over New Zealand."

The health board itself has had other major changes. The chief executive during Hasil's tenure was Memo Musa, who left with a confidential settlement that included the proviso that the hospital would not speak ill of him, and would give a positive reference if asked. He is now lecturing at Wanganui Polytech.

New chief executive Julie Patterson and new hospital manager Jeanette Black have been greeted with great enthusiasm.

In Australia, a Health Care Complaints Commission investigation into Hasil is continuing. There are at least 10 serious complaints of medical negligence and sexual assault at Lismore Base Hospital, New South Wales, from 2001-05.

But an investigation by Tasmanian police carries greater weight. The brutal killing of Victoria Cafasso - who was battered and stabbed 21 times in 1995 - is their most infamous cold case. Detective Inspector Mike Otley says Hasil - who has gone into hiding - is a "person of interest" in the murder. He wants Hasil interviewed over inconsistencies that have emerged in the statement he made more than a decade ago. At the time, Hasil said he was at home sick on the day of the murder.

Otley: "I can prove he's a liar. That doesn't mean he's a murderer. He certainly is a person of interest to me."

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