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Hospital death certificate probe finds no misconduct

A corruption investigation has failed to substantiate claims a doctor was asked to backdate the death certificate of a Perth hospital patient.

Kevin Reid, 55, died at Rockingham General Hospital in September 2022.

He had entered palliative care after being admitted to hospital the previous month with shortness of breath and fluid overload and a history of heart disease.

Western Australia's Corruption and Crime Commission launched an investigation after a doctor wrote to the coroner, revealing Mr Reid had been moved to a morgue without his death having been formally certified.

The registrar alleged Mr Reid may have been alive at the time of the transfer, a claim strongly denied by West Australian health officials.

In a report tabled in parliament on Tuesday, the commission said it had not investigated the allegation because it was outside its jurisdiction.

Patient records obtained by the commission showed nursing staff had recorded Mr Reid as having died on the night of September 5 but a formal death certification had not been completed.

The registrar testified he attended the mortuary on September 6 and found Mr Reid's left arm "up over his right shoulder" with his eyes open and a blood clot visible from an apparent skin tear on his right arm.

He recorded the man's date of death as September 6.

The registrar was subsequently asked by a senior doctor if he would consider changing the date of death to September 5 "to avoid distress to Mr Reid's family".

He declined to do so and maintained that position when contacted twice more about Mr Reid's death.

The commission described the registrar as a credible witness but said the evidence did not support a serious misconduct finding.

"The evidence does not establish that the senior doctor attempted to coerce the registrar," the watchdog said

"The senior doctor was entitled to ask the registrar to consider a change of date; the registrar was entitled to decline."

The registrar, who has since quit the hospital, completed two sets of handwritten clinical notes regarding the death certification process, adding one to Mr Reid's patient file and placing the other in a departmental head's desk drawer.

Investigators were only able to locate the second set.

While there was no evidence anyone intentionally destroyed the first set of notes, the hospital's reliance on paper records constituted a "misconduct risk", the commission found.

South Metropolitan Health Service chief executive Paul Forden welcomed the findings and said a digital medical record system was being implemented at the hospital.

"We take reports of misconduct very seriously and have robust policies, practices and processes to manage any misconduct matters throughout our hospitals," he said in a statement.

"An investigation into the death by the coroner's court is ongoing, a spokeswoman said."