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Sally Gleeson discussing medical issues and malpractice claims

Sally Gleeson providing Q & A on the 2GB Chris Smith Afternoon Show discussing medical issues – 4/8/2015

Tuesday, 4 August 2015 


CS – Chris Smith/SG – Sally Gleeson /C1,2,3, etc – Callers 


CS       Now, today we are talking about everything to do with medical law with Turner Freeman lawyers, Sally Gleeson. Just before we do that Billy McGee has run in and he’s run in with pieces of paper flying in both of his hands. He’s obviously got some sports news to give us in terms of judiciary charges and pleas of guilty and not guilty. What have you got Bill?

Bill      Yeah, Smithy, I’ve got a couple actually, so Edric Lee from Canberra has taken the early plea for tripping, he’ll miss one game; Heath Galloway, Lake Austin, Lees Namal (??). All have taken the early plea. They will be free to play this weekend but Greg Eastwood from the Bulldogs, he’s going to the Judiciary tomorrow night to fight his dangerous contact charge. If he loses he’ll miss a week.

CS       Big risk…. all right. Thank you very much for that. Sally Gleeson, welcome to the program.

SG      Thank you Chris.

CS       Good to have you in here. Medical law is on our agenda this afternoon listeners and Sally will not be here forever. So if you’ve got a question, you want some free advice and from a lawyer that has something that you may not have heard for quite some time. 131873 is the telephone number; Sally of course from the great firm of Turner Freeman lawyers and don’t forget you can also catch up with some issues related to the topics that are covered and the cases that are covered by Turner Freeman. In your local newspaper, because they’ve got their own Legal Matters column in your local newspaper there. They range in terms of topicality form compensation and negligence law, family and employment law, wills and estate law and superannuation and disability. So catch up with your local newspaper; and I’ve got a $100 Westfield voucher to give away. One hundred dollar Westfield voucher to the caller of the afternoon between now and 2. 131873 is the telephone number – medical law – where do we start? I want to start with this if I can. Communication, doctors really; and I know this is a generalisation, but it’s a generalisation based on many years of going to GPs apart from my favourite GPs of course, because I know they are listening. Um, the lack of communication sometimes between patient and doctor and specialists and patients can cause significant problems and you’ve got a case in point.

SG      I do. So, today I wanted to talk about communication Chris and we all know that good communication is the key to the success of any relationship and the doctor/patient relationship is one of those relationships and this case that I wanted to talk about is a recently decided case so it’s hot off the press; it’s about a woman, Sandra George who was of Macedonian heritage and she had clear language difficulties; there was no doubt about it. She went and sought treatment because she had abnormal sensation in her right ear. She went and saw her GP and ultimately she was referred to a specialist and the lack of communication between the specialist and Ms George was so severe to the point where she was having one surgery when in fact she was having another. The surgery in her mind was to remove what she thought was a tumour in her brain but in fact she had a growth, it was a non-malignant growth, it was non-invasive, it was non-life threatening. She could have very easily adopted a wait and see approach and she could have waited; and she had a friend come along, he was Macedonian. He did the translating for her. Unfortunately, that didn’t occur on every occasion and unfortunately he wasn’t a skilled and properly qualified interpreter. So, the issue in the case of course was that the surgery was conducted in late 2009 and she suffered a very rare complication of the surgery, it was inadvertent. There was nothing that could have been done and she suffered a right sided facial palsy, which is a type of paralysis in her right side; and the level of her disability was extremely severe, she couldn’t drink, she lost a lot of weight, she couldn’t open her mouth, she had to drink through a straw. So the case was about – well what is the role of a medical practitioner? And how far does that go and how do you assess whether a patient truly understands. No doubt medical practitioners run into the problem of not knowing whether the message of what needs to be done has been properly conveyed.

CS       But if there is any grey area, you’d expect that given the seriousness of the treatment being profit, you’ve actually got to get someone in between the two of you and get it translated properly.

SG      Absolutely.

CS       So the patient understands.

SG      Absolutely and the Judge in this case found in favour of Ms George and the Judge said “Listen, had she known exactly what she was in for, she wouldn’t have had the surgery”… and because of the lack of communication this unexpected tragic outcome occurred. So obviously the outcome can be very very…. you know….. devastating to a patient.

CS       That’s a classic case.  If you’ve got a question for Sally in terms of communication you may have had with a GP, with a specialist, maybe there’s a misdiagnosis you’re keen to pursue or what about the area of asbestos? This is a big issue for the firm Turner Freeman?

SG      That’s right.

CS       People coming to you and maybe um being allegedly exposed to asbestos at a workplace; maybe as a worker. What kind of cases are you getting coming through the door? 

SG      Well we have many many types of cases, cases involving malignant type of cancers, cases involving mesothelioma cases, cases involving non-malignant but… just as equally cases or illness, diseases or disabilities that affect patients….

CS       Then you have to make the connection between that diagnosis…….

SG      And the exposure.

CS       And the exposure.

SG      That’s exactly right…  So….. 

CS       And it’s all around us…

SG      Everywhere. And there are many stages of it and there are many waves of it and it’s always something that we are encountering and learning about and you know people/patients seeing us from all walks of life with different types of exposures, different types of cases and there are cases that we pursue so that we can help these patients….

CS       Is it a hard case to win?

SG      Ah, it can be, but when you specialise in the area and when you do it for a living and when you do it really well, you learn how to do it well……

CS       And we’ve seen cases that have made the link on a number of occasions, so there are precedents in law……

SG      Absolutely…..

CS       That could help people coming to you and saying, well I have the same condition. I know when I was exposed and can we investigate that……

SG      That’s right and you learn where these exposures come from; you learn to speak to the best of the experts and you learn how to help these patients. I mean that’s what our firm specialises in. That’s what we have been doing for 50 plus years.

CS       Let’s talk about doctor/patient relationships. When doctors cross the line with inappropriate behaviour and we’ve seen case after case after case. It’s in the minority as you know.

SG      It is. 

CS       But how as a patient, especially as a woman, do you know when …….

SG      ……. the boundaries are violated…….

CS       that’s not part of a diagnosis? 

SG       Ah, well I think human instinct is a beautiful thing. You know…..  we are talking about patients who see doctors because of an ailment, whether it is a physical or a psychological or an emotional illness, so they’re not a patient who approaches a doctor with a normal clean slate. So when you are affected to that degree, often you don’t know what’s right and wrong and you struggle with it because you’re fragile, your coming from a background where you are to a degree scarred, so it’s very hard to know what’s correct and what’s incorrect, but there are clear boundary lines, there are clear lines between a doctor and a patient that shouldn’t be violated and that’s quite well know in the legal hemisphere. 

CS       Now I wonder whether we do have listeners who have been through this period and you’ve thought to yourself, I didn’t think that was what the doctor was supposed to do but you, you know kept it to yourself and maybe it’s something you want to run it by Sally, Sally Gleeson from Turner Freeman Lawyers and don’t forget I’ve got a $100 Westfield Voucher Gift Voucher to give away to one of our callers this afternoon and you can pick up all that you need to know in terms of expert advice through your local newspaper where Turner Freeman has a Legal Matters column as well. We’ll take your calls after the break, 131873 is the telephone number for that free advice. It’s a quarter to 2.


CS       Yeah, we’ve got Turner Freeman, Sally Gleeson in the studio talking about medical law, 131873 the telephone number….. any question, free advice, ah, go for your life. I want to go back to this doctor/patient relationship once again. If someone has been a patient and they think that they have gone through an uncomfortable um, I guess visitation with the doctor, where do they raise that? Do they raise that with the doctor? Do you need to do that to then give validation to the complaint that you have down the track or do you need to go and talk to the Medical Tribunal? Who do you talk to, is there a complaints department?

SG      There is. There are various complaints departments. It is encumbered upon the doctor to whom they eventually see. So for instance they have a relationship with the doctor. There is a clear boundary of violation. They feel violated. They should see someone else. Talk to that other person. Someone independent. Someone objective.

CS       Maybe write down some notes. I know…..

SG      Write down some notes…..

CS       I know we keep talking about contemporaneous …….

SG      Write down some notes because it is often hard to remember and then it’s incumbent upon that doctor who receives the complaint to report that behaviour and then there is a body that takes that on, investigates and follows through on that.

CS       Okay. That’s interesting. And what rights do patients have when requesting male or female doctors. Some female patients in particular prefer a female doctor.

SG      The same way that some female patients prefer a female lawyer or a female psychologist. Ah, it’s a matter of choice, we have to understand that you need to feel truly comfortable with the treatment that you’re receiving and as I said earlier, communication. You need to be able to communicate with that doctor and how can you communicate if you’re not comfortable. So, yes a patient does have a right to request but of course it’s got to be available and affordable.

CS       Okay. It’s 10 to 2. In a similar ………. Kate’s got a question for you and probably a case that she’s dealing with at the moment. Kate go ahead.  Sally’s listening.

Caller No: 1                Kate

Kate    Sally, hi. Um I had a medical before the District Court of New South Wales against dental practitioners. The matter was set for trial and the proceedings was stayed. Even though it was set for trial. They alleged I didn’t attend three exams which was untrue.

SG      And this was your case Kate?

Kate    Yeah. My case.

SG      When you say it was stayed. I’m assuming that it’s still in Court? But on hold.

Kate    No. The proceedings are stayed pending my payment of $3,800 for allegedly missing three appointments. I missed one appointment.

SG      Yes.

Kate    Which was $990

SG      Yes.

Kate    I can’t pay the $3,805 and secondly I don’t need to. Those bills put forward by Meridian Lawyers who are hired by Guild Insurance a potential Indemnity and Indemnifiers were fraudulent receipts. Um it was the only hearing of all 17 that I didn’t attend because I had medical care interstate and had to move at the same time. Being quite difficult and the second one that you mentioned about approaching doctors when they have inaccurate records I’ve been through that more than I can tell you. I’m ….. yeah.

SG      It’s a complaint that I often receive Kate….. What is recorded or reflected in the records is not a true reflection of what took place and it’s a very hard one.

CS       Are you suggesting that records are sometimes doctored for one of the better words?

Kate    Exactly…. well they are, they are, they are. I have had over 164 appointments in New South Wales with dentists and none of them helped me and I had a massive amount of dental care that was needed as a result of a filed dental procedure where they pulled my jaw out of the socket.  I’ve got two reports from the Australian Dental Association. Unfortunately a lot of the fellows are mates called “Boys Club”… I think.

CS       Listen, let’s be very careful about what we are accusing a group of people to be……

Kate    Okay, well I have documentation to back it.

CS       Well have you seen a lawyer?

Kate    Ah…

CS       You’ve obviously got a fleet of lawyers.

Kate    I had Legal Aid and I guess Legal Aid…. and that’s very unusual for Legal Aid in medical negligence….

CS       Yeah….

Kate    There’s that old saying “Whatever they’re paying them, somebody else is paying them more”. I have more facts and correctness than you know, it’s not honesty that wins in Court.  …..

CS       Okay Kate. Can I make life a little bit better for you by giving you a $100 Westfield Voucher?

Kate    Yes.

CS       Yeah, it won’t get you any solution or closure to what your chasing at the moment, but a gesture from Turner Freeman Lawyers, the $100 Westfield Voucher all right. Stay there Kate. We’ll make sure we get that to you. It’s interesting what she says about records. Before we start blaming individuals and we shouldn’t be doing that but no doubt you must see in court sometimes records that are a little bit different to what you expected.

SG      A little bit different. It’s rare but it does occur. Sometimes records written in hindsight after the event, which is of course a very dangerous area.

CS       Okay. All right interesting all right. Sally, thank you very much for your time this afternoon.

SG      Thank you Chris.

CS       Okay.

SG      Pleasure.

CS       Sally Gleeson and once again check out your local newspaper for all you need to know in terms of compensation and negligence law, family and employment law, wills and estates law and superannuation and disability claims and don’t forget Turner Freeman back again each Tuesday afternoon on the Afternoon Program.