Brain tumour survivor Trudy Davis wrongly discharged from Shellharbour Hospital, Professional Standards Committee finds

Dr George Chimpanda departs day one of the Professional Standards Committee hearing in July.  Inset: Trudy Davis

Dr George Chimpanda departs day one of the Professional Standards Committee hearing in July. Inset: Trudy Davis

A doctor accused of wrongly discharging Illawarra treasure Trudy Davis from Shellharbour Hospital in the hours leading to her death has been reprimanded for unsatisfactory professional conduct. 

Senior Medical Officer Dr George Chimpanda was in charge of the hospital’s emergency department the afternoon of December 12, 2013, when Ms Davis presented with breathing difficulties.

The doctor saw Ms Davis about 6pm and ordered some tests and observations. Ms Davis’ father Geoffrey collected her from the hospital about 11.30pm and took her home to Barrack Heights, where she would die in her sleep, probably about ten and a half hours later.

In July, Mr Davis and his wife Karenne attended a Professional Standards Committee hearing held by the Medical Council of NSW in Sydney, having filed a complaint about Dr Chimpanda.

Last week the committee ordered Dr Chimpanda to undergo further training, concluding he had acted “significantly below the standard reasonably expected of a practitioner of his level of training and experience” by sending Ms Davis home. 

Trudy Davis left behind two sons aged 19 and 11. Picture: supplied

Trudy Davis left behind two sons aged 19 and 11. Picture: supplied

The committee found Dr Chimpanda’s engagement with Ms Davis had been “incomplete and insufficient, as was his communication with the nursing staff”. 

Dr Chimpanda told the inquiry he telephoned a medical registrar, Dr Bhargava, in the hope Dr Bhargava would attend the emergency department and review Ms Davis. But Dr Bhargava deferred to the more senior Dr Chimpanda. 

“It seems the conversation … came to an end when Dr Bhargava made the suggestion that  Ms Davis be placed on antibiotics,” the inquiry report said. “We think it is likely Dr Chimpanda [later] attempted to speak to Dr Bhargava in the emergency department, but without success.”

The inquiry accepted Dr Chimpanda did not, “strictly speaking” tell Ms Davis she was discharged. But his clinical notes, showing he had advised his patient to “continue with [antibiotics] and follow up with GP” were among the indicators that this was his decision. 

“Even if he did not use those words he conveyed that message to her, and later to the nursing staff, such that the nursing staff arranged for the discharge and Ms Davis complied over her own desire to remain,” the committee found. 

The inquiry heard Dr Chimpanda resolved to speak to Ms Davis when told she had objected to leaving the hospital. But he was unconcerned at finding her already gone when he went to have the conversation. 

Ms Davis’ was a household name in the Illawarra in 1988, when the community raised $100,000 to send the then-16-year-old to Switzerland to have an aggressive brain tumour removed. 

The committee found the emergency department was busy, but this did not explain Dr Chimpanda’s decision not to admit Ms Davis, a 42-year-old Aboriginal woman and smoker with a complex medical history who – in the past – had willingly discharged herself from hospital. 

“His decisions were not reached through lack of time. It is clear from the clinical notes that he was content with his diagnosis and had no concern that she had left.” 

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