A senior doctor has accused Te Whatu Ora – Health New Zealand of a “conspiracy” to avoid publicly disclosing unsafe radiology practices that harmed multiple patients, the Herald can reveal.
In an extraordinary step, Dr Bryan Wolf, a consultant radiologist in Hawke’s Bay, has asked the Ombudsman to investigate what he describes as the national health authority’s failure to inform the public about significant safety risks in the radiology service where he is a senior medical officer.
The Herald has obtained two letters Wolf sent to Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier in July in which he alleged that Te Whatu Ora withheld important information despite his insistence it be made public and questioned its commitment to accountability.
“I believe this can now reasonably be labelled a conspiracy to defraud the general public of their knowledge and health,” he wrote in one of the letters, which have not previously been reported.
Late last year, Wolf alerted Te Whatu Ora’s board and national leadership to problems he alleged put patients and employees at risk of “permanent, life-altering physical, emotional, psychological, cultural and professional harm”, according to his letters to the Ombudsman.
In response, Te Whatu Ora commissioned a review of Hawke’s Bay’s radiology department which was completed in April. According to people who have seen their report, the reviewers found long-standing flaws in systems and a culture that endangered patients and left staff feeling isolated and helpless.
At the centre was an IT system so defective that radiology reports were not delivered to doctors who requested them and clinicians were forced to adopt risky workarounds.
The review raises wider questions about the quality of patient care, staffing levels, technology systems, governance and accountability in hospitals at a time when New Zealand’s health sector is under enormous strain, one of the sources said.
But the report was not made public after it was completed, and Te Whatu Ora refused to release it when a journalist at RNZ requested the document under the Official Information Act in May, on the grounds that disclosure would identify a whistleblower – Wolf.
Wolf was infuriated by the decision not to release the report. In one of his letters to the Ombudsman, he said he made it clear to the reviewers and Te Whatu Ora executives that he wanted the public to know about the safety issues and did not expect his identity to be protected.
Misusing the laws to deny releasing a damning report by pretending to ‘protect’ the whistleblower is just jaw dropping in its audacity.
How on earth can Te Whatu Ora pretend to be protecting the whistleblower when the whistleblower has been publicly demanding this investigation?
This isn’t what Te Whatu Ora Comms teams should be doing.
This is outrageous.
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