A doctor pocketed tens of thousands of dollars from a program that awarded doctors $200 for every patient they admitted into hospital at Peel Health Campus, a parliamentary committee was told today.
Former chief operating officer Ashton Foley said doctors, who were paid $200 for every patient they admitted into the hospital from emergency, started rorting the system when they “figured out it was a money making opportunity.”
She told the committee that doctors’ “exploitation” of the “clinical decisions unit”, which had initially been designed to process patients in accordance with the four-hour rule, constituted “fraud” and “corruption.”
The private operator of the hospital, Health Solutions WA, has had to pay back $1.4 million to the Health Department after an audit found many patients did not meet the admission criteria.
Mrs Foley said four doctors were the “worst offenders” with one pocketing “tens and thousands of dollars” from the scheme.
Mrs Foley said patients were admitted and treated unnecessarily so the hospital could claim more money from the health department.
The committee heard patients were being admitted without even being seen by the doctor, which prevented genuine patients from receiving treatment because it was blocking up beds.
Doctors deliberately altered time-stamps, which record when a patient presents at emergency, to make it look like they had spent longer in emergency than they really had, in order to justify their admission into the hospital.
Mrs Foley said the head of nursing Catherine McKinley was chastised and ignored when she raised concerns with senior management about the spike in admissions but nothing was done about it.
Mrs Foley described PHC as being in a “state of chaos” when she started working there, citing a “toxic culture of bullying” and underpaid staff as key issues which contributed to a high staff turnover.
She said patient care had been compromised by ageing IT systems and carpets covered in bloody and bodily fluids which posed an “infection control risk.”
Revenue and profits were prioritised over patient care, she said.
PHC Director of Clinical Services Aled Williams denied patients had been admitted unnecessarily.
He told the committee while their admission did not always satisfy the Health Department's billing criteria, there was always a "clinical" reason behind their admission.
Peel Health Campus managing director Neale Fong said the $200 paid to doctors was a "fee for service" rather than an incentive payment, which helped them recruit senior doctors to enhance patient care.
"PHC were able to attract high-calibre senior doctors to PHC at a time when recruitment was very difficult," he said.
He said senior management acted quickly when they realised there had been a spike in admissions.
"PHC itself identified the problems in the system, liaised with the South Metropolitan Health Service (and) fixed the problems and refunded the health department."
"(Peel Health Campus') management team has nothing to hide. We look forward to the opportunity to detail all the facts surrounding areas of interest recently raised in the public arena relating to the claimed operations and practices of Peel Health Campus – so much of which has been either misleading or untrue," he said.
Shadow health minister Roger Cook has called on the Barnett Government to order an independent inquiry into the hospital and said Mrs Foley should be afforded the protection of a whistleblower after her “courageous” testimony to the committee.
The committee hearing continues.
*This article had previously incorrectly reported the evidence given by Mrs Foley as regards the provision of radiological services at Peel Health Campus. We unreservedly apologise for that error.