By Ruth Pollard, Health Reporter
The state's health system was plagued by medical mistakes and cover-ups and was run by an "old girls' network" of administrators protected by their political affiliations, the chairman of a NSW parliamentary inquiry said.
The release of the final report of the inquiry into complaints handling at NSW Health yesterday led to renewed calls for the resignation of the former health minister Craig Knowles over its finding that Camden maternity unit was opened prematurely.
The release of the report comes a day after a spokeswoman for Mr Knowles confirmed the Independent Commission Against Corruption had spoken to him about the alleged cover-up of medical errors at Camden and Campbelltown hospitals.
" A perception remains that the opening of Camden maternity unit was politically motivated. The service was opened with inadequate staffing levels to provide safe coverage," the report said.
The Opposition Leader, John Brogden, said this finding should prompt the sacking or resignation of Mr Knowles, now Planning Minister. "The tragic consequence of Labor rushing the opening of the maternity unit to win the marginal seat of Camden was the death of baby Natalia Lalic," he said. Natalia died five days after being born in Camden Hospital in March last year. Her death has been referred to the Coroner.
The inquiry chairman, Gordon Moyes, said he believed the whistleblower nurses - who accused Mr Knowles of bullying when they came to him about patient deaths in November 2002 - were telling the truth.
However, the report noted significant differences in the nurses' versions of events in Mr Knowles's office, with two of the complainants at the meeting, Valerie Owen and Yvonne Quinn, describing him as "taking our concerns very seriously".
Mr Knowles has denied the bullying allegations, but refused to appear before the inquiry.
The Health Minister, Morris Iemma, said Mr Knowles had no case to answer, and cast doubt on the inquiry's finding that adverse events were covered up throughout the system, saying only South Western Sydney Area Health Service had been examined.
" They made statewide interpretations," Mr Iemma said. "I think the statistical information and the evidence given doesn't support that."
Mr Iemma said he supported the majority of the upper house committee's recommendations, and noted that the Government had already made "sweeping reforms" to the Health Care Complaints Commission.
The report found there were "undoubtedly serious cultural and system-related problems concerning complaints handling in south-west Sydney".
Dr Moyes described a political network of senior female administrators running the NSW health system, including the former chief of Macarthur Health, Jennifer Collins, the administrator of the South Western Sydney Area Health Service, Deborah Picone, and chief executive officer of Central Sydney Area Health Service, Diana Horvath.