"Witch-hunt" over eel case

By Martin Johnston

Auckland Hospital staff have been called to disciplinary hearings in the breach-of-privacy case involving the man who had an eel removed from inside him.

The Herald understands that as part of a wide-ranging "witch-hunt", two doctors have been told to formally account for their actions after accessing the man's medical files more than once.

The Auckland District Health Board declined to answer questions on the matter, for fear that doing so might compromise its investigation, but chief executive Ailsa Claire defended the DHB's obligation to hold staff accountable.

"In cases where access to records is appropriate, staff would not be subject to disciplinary processes," she said. "In cases where the reason for access is not immediately clear, it is reasonable that we seek reasons for that access."

The DHB started the investigation last month after what it said was the apparently inappropriate accessing of clinical records and, separately, the possible leaking of information about the eel case to the media.

In a story that attracted worldwide attention, the Herald on Sunday in September reported that when the man sought help at the hospital, he was sent for x-rays and a scan.

These showed an eel which a hospital source told the paper was "about the size of a decent sprig of asparagus".

It was unclear how the eel came to be inside the man's rectum. It was believed hospital staff removed it and the man was later discharged.

It is understood staff are alleged to have emailed the x-rays. Media organisations are said to have a copy of one, but have chosen not to publish it. Neither the Herald nor the Herald on Sunday has the image.

"[The management] have investigated anyone who had access to that patient's file and are interviewing the staff concerned as to why they accessed the file," the source said yesterday.

"They are interviewing those who accessed the file who had nothing to do with the patient. There's a feeling in the hospital this is being taken a little far and becoming a bit of a witch-hunt."

Senior doctors' union executive director Ian Powell said: "There has been an over-reaction in that there is no support for anybody who may have leaked it to the media, but for people who have accessed it in a way that they would normally access an interesting and different case for learning purposes, that's going over the top."

- The Aucklander

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