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Women launch class action against doctor, clinic and medical agency

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Fifty women who contracted the hepatitis C virus or are carrying the hepatitis C antibody after undergoing a procedure at a clinic in metropolitan Melbourne, have launched a class action in the Supreme Court of Victoria.  

Lodged by Slater and Gordon, the law suit has been filed against anaesthetist Dr James Latham Peters, the director of the former Croydon Day Surgery Dr Mark Schulberg, and the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency. 

It is believed to be the first time that a personal injury class action has been lodged against a medical practitioner regulator in Australia.

Slater and Gordon practice group leader Julie Clayton said the 50 women in the class action had all been diagnosed with the hepatitis C virus or found to be carrying hepatitis C antibody after attending the Croydon Day Surgery between January 2008 and December 2009.

“This has been a distressing and traumatic event for all of the women involved. They put their faith in the medical profession and they feel betrayed at a time when they were most vulnerable,” Ms Clayton said.

“The women have faced, or are in the midst of facing extensive treatment to deal with the serious side effects of hepatitis C. They are also living with the knowledge that the disease can lead to serious and life threatening complications in the future.

“For the women involved, this matter has caused significant psychological trauma, and it has had a significant impact on their work and personal lives.”

Ms Clayton said Dr Peters was the anaesthetist for all 50 women when they attended the clinic.

“These women have been infected with the same strain of hepatitis C as that of the performing anaesthetist. We believe that this demonstrates that there has been a very serious breach of basic medical standards,” Ms Clayton said.

”The operator of the Croydon Day Surgery, as it was at the time, had a duty to ensure that women who underwent procedures were not exposed to a risk of contracting a life threatening disease. 

“It is extraordinary that these 50 women contracted the hepatitis C virus or hepatitis C antibody over a period of almost 2 years as a result of procedures performed in the one clinic. We can't see how this could occur if reasonable infection control procedures were followed.”

Ms Clayton said the Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria was responsible for overseeing Dr Peters’ medical registration. The Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Agency has assumed the liabilities of the Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria as part of a new national scheme.

“The medical board’s primary role was to protect the public by regulating medical practitioners. It had a specific duty to minimise the community’s exposure to health risks and we believe that in this instance, the board failed in its duties.”

Slater and Gordon successfully sought anonymity for the lead plaintiff and all women involved in the class action litigation. The court order restricts the release of any personal details, such as names, ages and addresses, of the class action members.

Ms Clayton said compensation was being sought for pain and suffering, medical expenses, and any loss of income.