A doctor at Sydney Children’s Hospital has been reprimanded for his care of two babies with heart problems. Photo: Gabriele CharotteA doctor at the Sydney Children’s Hospital ordered unnecessary open-heart surgery on a three-day-old baby and put another at risk of permanent heart damage, the health regulator has found.
Paediatric cardiologist Christoph Camphausen previously headed the Randwick cardiology unit, but has since been suspended from clinical duties and will now not work without supervision because of serious concerns about public safety.
The case has also raised questions about the organisation of paediatric cardiac services in NSW, with allegations of dysfunction and tension in one of Sydney’s top children’s hospitals.
Dr Camphausen was prosecuted by the Health Care Complaints Commission after concerns were raised by colleagues about his treatment of seven patients.
In the two cases heard by a Medical Professional Standards Committee he was found to have made “extremely serious” departures from the expected clinical standards for treating babies with heart problems and to have inadequately consulted with expert colleagues.
In the first case, expert witness and Melbourne paediatric cardiologist James Wilkinson said Dr Camphausen had made an “astonishing error” when he misdiagnosed a three-day-old baby in 2012. His belief that the baby boy had a congenital malformation of a heart valve led him to order the baby undergo unnecessary exploratory heart surgery.
In the second case, Dr Camphausen mistakenly delayed for two years surgery that should have been done within six months on a baby girl born with Down syndrome and a heart murmur in December 2010.
Professor Wilkinson told the Committee there was “…was no benefit in postponing surgery in this child and the delay will undoubtedly have resulted in some damage to her [blood vessels in her lungs], with an adverse effect on her long-term prospects of getting a good result.”
In the hearings, Dr Camphausen said he did not consult with his colleagues because an “extremely stressful environment” had developed as the units at Randwick and the Children’s Hospital at Westmead prepared to merge.
He said there was a “lack of mutual support and trust within the department” and his relationship with his colleagues had deteriorated.
“To consistently practice paediatric cardiology at a high level, an individual needs to function as a member of a team,” he told the committee. “Over the course of 2011 and 2012 I had to work in an increasingly unsupportive environment.”
He admitted he had made errors, but said his two years suspended from clinical practice had given him “more than enough time to learn from my mistakes”.
Other clinicians also defended his attitude and work, calling him “honest [and] hardworking”, “highly regarded” and “collaborative and collegial”.
But despite Dr Camphausen trying to learn from his mistakes and continuing his medical education while suspended, the committee said his conduct still “raises serious concerns in relation to clinical standards and the protection of the public”.
“It is somewhat problematic that Dr Camphausen as an experienced, highly trained, hard-working, specialist paediatric cardiologist has been found guilty of unsatisfactory professional conduct in the circumstances outlined,” it wrote.
The committee gave Dr Camphausen an official reprimand, and ordered he must inform them if he restarts or changes clinical practice, and that any practice must be supervised by an approved supervisor.
The Sydney Children’s Hospital Network, where Dr Camphausen remains employed in a non-clinical position, apologised to the affected families and said it regretted that their children did not get the best care.
“We will work with the families involved to ensure they are aware of the findings and indicate that better care should have been provided,” a spokeswoman said. She noted the investigation had been initiated by the network and staff acted in the best interests of children.
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