A GYNAECOLOGIST who left a trail of devastated women patients across two countries and two Australian states exhibited such extreme conduct it was hard to distinguish his most serious failings, a tribunal has found.
Dr Richard Reid, 76, lacked honesty, “effectively abandoned” a woman patient with serious complications after pelvic mesh surgery, misrepresented himself as a professor and associate professor, “flagrantly ignored” conditions over his practice, failed to gain patient consent before implanting pelvic mesh in women and exhibited “zeal” for a surgical theory practised by only two or three other gynaecologists in the country, the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal found on Monday.
But the tribunal’s inability to take any action other than to disqualify Dr Reid, a former Macquarie Street, Sydney specialist who retired in 2016, showed a health system that failed patients, said Medical Error Action Group founder Lorraine Long and Dr Reid’s patients, including Victorian woman Jan Wise.
Ms Long slammed the length of a Health Care Complaints Commission investigation and prosecution after an initial complaint in February, 2014 that expanded to include complaints by 17 women, during a period when Victorian health authorities also investigated Dr Reid’s training at a Melbourne public hospital in 2013 while under conditions in NSW.
“Health regulators display no appetite to protect the public. They are regulators without teeth. The harm that is done by our medical regulators failing to protect the public is itself cause for alarm,” Ms Long said.
Ms Wise, who was implanted with a high risk pelvic mesh device in 2013, said she could not understand how a surgeon with Dr Reid’s history had been allowed to continue to operate and why victims were left to pursue him in court for redress.
“Nothing will put my life back to what it was before. Every time I hear that man’s name it causes me pain,” Ms Wise said.
Health regulators display no appetite to protect the public. They are regulators without teeth. The harm that is done by our medical regulators failing to protect the public is itself cause for alarm.Medical Error Action Group founder Lorraine Long
The NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal found Dr Reid engaged in improper conduct with a young female patient after sexualising a consultation by commenting on her “lovely figure” and running his hands along the sides of her body from her bust line to her hips, it found.
He was guilty of unprofessional conduct and professional misconduct so serious that his registration would have been cancelled – except he retired before the tribunal’s decision was handed down.
“The conduct we have found established is of such a serious nature that we are satisfied if the practitioner was still registered, we would have cancelled his registration,” the tribunal found.
The former University of Newcastle lecturer’s response to complaints by 17 women patients demonstrated “a lack of insight, or perhaps more correctly, an inability or unwillingness to acknowledge that he acted as though the rules governing other professionals did not apply to him,” the tribunal found.
Dr Reid failed to disclose to a Sydney hospital that he had been suspended by American health regulators in the 1990s after multiple complaints from women patients leading to legal settlements.
He provided “half-truths or untruths” to the NSW Medical Council and Health Care Complaints Commission after a series of investigations from 2009 following complaints by women in NSW. He also held himself out to be a professor and associate professor for several years after the University of Newcastle and University of New England advised he was not entitled to do so.
Dr Reid’s surgical failings, clinical errors of judgment, his “zeal for a non-mainstream procedure without appropriate warnings” to women patients implanted with pelvic mesh devices were so serious they would have led to cancellation of his registration, the tribunal found.
“We have found numerous instances where the practitioner’s clinical judgment and/or skill fell conduct fell significantly below the conduct reasonably expected of a practitioner of his level of training and experience.
Dr Reid’s “first instinct was to lie to protect himself”, barrister Kate Richardson for the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission told the tribunal during her summing-up in April after Dr Reid prepared false patient notes and made up a “really unlikely story” after a woman initiated legal action against him following mesh surgery.
In 2017 former patients slammed the HCCC for the length of time it took to investigate and prosecute Dr Reid after he said he was going sailing in the Philippines in the period before the NCAT hearing.
The medical profession was accused of “turning a blind eye” to public safety issues after serious questions about NSW Medical Council monitoring of Dr Reid following a serious complaint in 2011. The monitoring failed to detect an allegedly false referral from another doctor who was under close Medical Council supervision because of serious substance abuse.