March 22, 2010 in Nation/World

Doctor pleads not guilty in patient deaths

Dennis Passa Associated Press

BRISBANE, Australia – An American doctor accused of repeatedly botching operations and performing surgeries he was not capable of handling pleaded not guilty today in Australia to three manslaughter charges and one of grievous bodily harm.

Indian-born Jayant Patel replied “not guilty, your honor” when the charges were read to him just before jury selection began in a trial that is expected to take four to six weeks and hear some 90 witnesses.

The trial comes more than 25 years after questions were first raised about his competency and five years after a government inquiry found he may have directly contributed to patient deaths because of an unacceptable level of care at the hospital.

Patel, 59, has not spoken publicly about the charges. He faces life in prison if convicted.

Prosecutors say Patel repeatedly performed surgeries he’d been banned from undertaking in the United States, misdiagnosed patients and used sloppy, antiquated surgical techniques while working in Bundaberg, a sugar industry town 230 miles north of Brisbane in Queensland state. Some of the accusations against him include unnecessarily removing a patient’s bowel and failing to stop internal bleeding in an elderly man who later died.

Patel was originally charged with more than a dozen counts, but will only be tried on three counts of manslaughter and one of grievous bodily harm. The charges relate to four patients he treated between 2003 and 2005.

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