Urologist Daryl Stephens suspended by Mackay Hospital and Health Service

In the latest controversy to engulf Mackay Base Hospital, a urologist has been suspended amid an investigation. 

It is not the first time surgeon Daryl Stephens’ competency as a medical professional has been questioned.

In 2018, Dr Stephens — who began working in Mackay in January 2016 after relocating from Western Australia — was fined for engaging in professional misconduct in that state during his time there.

Despite that, he was allowed to continue to work in Mackay, in part due to a severe lack of urological services in north Queensland.

Tribunal findings

The public transcript of the State Administrative Tribunal of Western Australia, from November 3 and 5 in 2017, indicated the tribunal accepted that ordinarily Dr Stephens’ conduct should have resulted in a suspension. 

However, several reasons were listed for determining to issue a fine instead. 

“He has completed a 12-month period of supervision successfully; he has moved to a supportive environment where he is part of a team at the Mackay Base Hospital; and he provides urological services in north Queensland that would not otherwise be available,” the transcript stated.

The tribunal ordered Dr Stephens be fined $30,000 for misconduct, as well as an additional $2,000 for failing to report the loss of his accreditation at Western Australia Primary Health Care. 

The medical board said his misconduct referred to the care of a patient where Dr Stephens failed to read their pathology reports for up to three months and take any steps to inform them of their diagnosis. 

While the tribunal acknowledged the incident only involved one patient, the concern was “that the conduct extended over a number of months”.

“The tribunal does not accept that Dr Stephens’ conduct was competent,” the transcript stated.

“He failed to advise the patient of the recommended options [and] he chose an option that was inconsistent with the evidence of three of the experts.

“To have the requisite knowledge and then fail to apply it in appropriate circumstances constitutes incompetence.”

Sole urologist at hospital 

At the time of the tribunal, Dr Stephens was consulting an average of 160 patients in clinic each month. 

He was also mentoring junior medical staff and presenting lectures to James Cook University students twice a month. 

The tribunal found moving across the country was “reflective of an acknowledgement by Dr Stephens that he needed to change his practices”.

It also stated Dr Stephens had moved from a situation where he was practising unsupervised, to the Mackay Base Hospital where he was not working alone and was subject to peer supervision. 

The Mackay Hospital and Health Service (MHHS) has issued one statement in relation to Dr Stephen’s recent suspension. 

Interim chief executive Paula Foley said there were systems and processes in place to encourage staff and patients to speak up for safety. 

“It is important for anyone involved to be provided with procedural fairness while the concerns are investigated,” she said in the statement.

The ABC asked MHHS for further information but a spokesperson said it was “unable to comment on individual staffing matters”.

This is the latest controversy since the Mackay Base Hospital lost its accreditation to train doctors in obstetrics and gynaecology amid a number of claims of patient harm.

A review into maternity services has since been completed but the report is yet to be released to the public.

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