Do Country Hospitals Have the Same Duty of Care as City Hospitals?

By Tom Maling

Country hospitals have far less services available than city hospitals.  Will this excuse professional misconduct or negligence by a doctor or nurse?  Does the law say that people who go to hospitals in Batemans Bay, Bega or Cooma can receive a lesser standard of care?  Well, the answer is no (thankfully).

On 1 June 2017, the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal made a decision in Health Care Complaints Commission v Simonson.  Dr Simonson was a doctor who practiced at the Bega District Hospital.  Several complaints were made against him including failing to transfer a paediatric patient to a more acute hospital setting when needed, failing to adequately document care, and failing to adequately document a not for resuscitation (NFR) request or even advise the patient’s power of attorney (their son) of the request.  Ultimately the Tribunal made out numerous complaints and found the doctor guilty of professional misconduct.

As part of the hearing, the doctor argued that the context of working in a country hospital meant that some requirements, such as adequate note taking, could not be complied with.  Experts argued that the undoubted difficulties of being a doctor in a country area should excuse some failures to comply with ordinary standards.  This was rejected by the Tribunal, who stated:

“the same general standards of conduct apply to practitioners in regional and rural areas as apply to practitioners in metropolitan areas. Obviously, inability to have ready access to sophisticated diagnostic equipment or specialist assistance will impact upon the way in which they practice medicine, but the underlying general standard remains the same. Indeed, it is sometimes said that practitioners in regional and rural areas are expected to be able to provide a greater range of medical knowledge and services because of limitations in ready access to specialist services and tertiary hospitals.”

Obviously isolation from specialist services may, at times, have an impact on the care that someone in a country area may access, but elringtons whole-heartedly endorses the Tribunal’s comments – just because you live in areas such as Bateman’s Bay, Bega, Cooma, Goulburn or Yass, does not mean you should get a lesser standard of care by doctors and nurses.

elringtons has expertise in medical negligence cases.

Please do not hesitate to contact Tom Maling to discuss any concerns you have about the treatment you have received.

p: +61 2 6206 1300 | e:  Info@elringtons.com.au