Complaint decision a ‘triumph’


A Queenstown mother has labelled new guidelines released by Ombudsman Ron Paterson yesterday “an absolute triumph”.

In 2010, Sara Gutzewitz delivered her second child at Southland Hospital. The birth was described by an obstetrician as a “horrific event”.

It led to Ms Gutzewitz’s midwife, Jan Scherp, facing a serious misconduct charge and following a three-day hearing in Queenstown, a Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal found the charge unfounded.

However, an application for permanent name suppression was denied by the tribunal.

After publication of her name, the Otago Daily Times was contacted by other women alleging they had also made complaints, and the newspaper attempted to confirm their existence with the Health and Disciplinary Commissioner (HDC).

The request was declined on the basis any public interest in making the requested information available was “outweighed by the privacy interests concerned”.

The newspaper complained to the Ombudsman about the response, which raised questions about how much information was available regarding complaints against medical professionals, and at what point public interest and safety outweighed privacy interests of a health practitioner.

Gutzewitz says until now it appeared the privacy of a practitioner had almost always been given higher consideration.

The Ombudsman’s new guidelines have changed that.

“I think it’s fantastic … it gives the public something they have never had before: the right to make an informed decision when choosing a medical practitioner.

“After six years I am thoroughly proud that we have accomplished putting a set of guidelines in place, to hopefully improve safety, transparency and accountability in the health sector.

“It may make a complacent midwife more vigilant; it may make an inexperienced midwife ask for help.”

However, she’s mindful the HDC is still in charge of the guidelines.

Auckland Women’s Health Council co-ordinator Lynda Williams tells the ODT while the guidelines move in the right direction, they’re “fairly careful”.

“It’s a bit more conservative and cautious than I would have liked.”

Paterson’s opinion says HDC already has a protocol with the Medical Council whereby the commissioner notifies the council when its aware of three or more similar “low level” matters within five years.

Williams believes a mechanism should exist whereby any health practitioner with three “low level” complaints over that timeframe had their name published.

“Basically, I think we have to move towards more publicity when there are other complaints … this may be a good first step, but to me it doesn’t go far enough.”

Otago Daily Times