'Profits over patients' led to mum's death

·3-min read

Melbourne mother-of-two Peta Hickey died undergoing unnecessary heart testing in a program a coroner has found put profits over patients.

She should be preparing to see her young daughter Maggie start school next year and rehearsing lines with her son Max for his school musical.

Instead the loved mum and business executive went to work in May 2019 and never came home after undergoing unnecessary medical testing as part of a workplace screening program.

Ms Hickey had no medical history of heart concerns and after a fatal allergic reaction to the contrast dye used in the scan, an autopsy found her heart was in perfect health.

"Peta died as a result of substandard clinical judgment from doctors at the beginning and end of this program, combined with a misalignment of incentives amongst the various business entities that facilitated the process," coroner Simon McGregor said in findings handed down on Monday.

"It may be somewhat of an oversimplification but the snapshot provided by this inquest has revealed an industry putting profits over patients."

Outside court Ms Hickey's partner Rich Hickey said their children were just two and eight when they lost their mum, leaving them preparing for major milestones without her.

"They are her greatest achievement and legacy and my greatest pride," he said.

He wants an unreserved apology from those involved in her death.

"The lack of contrition shown to us by some of the key players throughout the inquest was staggering and exacerbated our grief," he said.

In his findings Mr McGregor recommended two doctors who played a causal role in Ms Hickey's death be reported to the Australian Healthcare Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).

Ms Hickey had been referred for the CT scan with contrast dye by a Dr Doumit Saad who worked for Jobfit, which provided "bulk medical assessments" to Priority Health Care Solutions, which was contracted by labour hire firm Programmed for the assessments.

Dr Saad had never assessed Ms Hickey before and the referral, which contained Dr Saad's electronic signature, contained no clinical notes.

The scan was organised through a company called MRI Now to be done at Future Medical Imaging Group in Moonee Ponds.

She went in for the scan with radiologist Dr Gavin Tseng on May 1 and had a severe anaphylactic reaction to the intravenous contrast dye.

Dr Tseng was told about Ms Hickey's reaction but did not act, despite adrenaline being available in the room.

Mr McGregor found Dr Tseng's failure was likely a result of a lack of training and shock.

Ms Hickey was treated by paramedics and taken to hospital but died on May 9.

The coroner found Dr Saad had either authorised referrals for patients he hadn't reviewed, failed to object to the program upon becoming aware his signature was being used for patients he hadn't reviewed and/or failed to apply the correct ethical standards - referring not to patients but to clients or candidates.

Dr Tseng had failed by continuing with the scan after reviewing the referral and failed to recognise anaphylaxis and administer adrenaline.

Mr McGregor also found the CTCA test was "unnecessary", determining it was not a valid screening test and is not indicated as a standalone test without other cardiovascular risk assessments.

He recommended three-yearly anaphylaxis training for radiologists working with contrast, and extensive training for reactions including the provision of CPR and basic life support.

Consumer watchdog the ACCC has also been asked to consider enforcement actions against two organisations for unconscionable, misleading or deceptive conduct, saying they gave clients the impression they directly employed medical practitioners and that patients had been reviewed before scans were requested.

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