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Staff at regional Victorian clinic posed as “fake patients”

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Staff at regional Victorian healthcare clinic posed as "fake patients" during the Health Minister's visit last year.
Staff at regional Victorian healthcare clinic posed as "fake patients" during the Health Minister's visit last year.

A regional Victorian health clinic has been investigated after staff posed as “fake patients” during a ministerial visit.

Vic Health said workers tried to make the Colac Health Centre look busier than usual when the Health Minister visited last year. Staff posed as multiple fake patients, including one who arrived by ambulance.

A Health Department investigation did not find evidence that the incident impacted patient care. However, staff were criticised for “inappropriate” behaviour.

Ambulance Victoria has also launched an investigation.

Colac

Colac Health Centre in south-west Victoria is one of the state’s ‘urgent care’ facilities. It provides emergency care to residents who might live long distances from the nearest hospital.

In August 2023, 10 Colac staff members posed as “fake patients” during a planned visit by Victorian Health Minister Mary-Anne Thomas.

While Thomas toured the facility, one worker was wheeled into urgent care from an ambulance. They were assessed by other staff, despite not requiring any treatment.

Investigation

A whistleblower eventually tipped off authorities about the incident, prompting Victoria’s Health Department to launch an investigation.

The findings from that probe were made public this week.

Investigators warned “there was a real possibility that patient care could have been impacted” by the ruse.

Authorities did not recommend any punishments for the incident.

However, they recommended clinic staff be “counselled on the seriousness of the matter”.

Health Minister Thomas said she was “disappointed” by the incident.

Ambulance Victoria is also working to determine if an ambulance was used inappropriately.

Response

Thomas said she didn’t need health services to stage fake patients to know “that our health system is facing challenges”.

She says there is no evidence to suggest the deception has been used by any other clinics she has visited during her time as Health Minister.

In a statement to TDA, Colac Area Health Interim CEO Steve Moylan apologised for the incident, which he said was “highly regrettable”.

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