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Estimates Reply – Minister Courtney

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Tuesday, 1 December 2020

Tags: Launceston General Hospital, Child Abuse, Commission of Inquiry

Dr WOODRUFF - The time for scrutiny of the Minister for Health from the point of view of the Greens was entirely dominated by the very serious allegations of child sex abuse perpetrated by a one-time nurse at the Launceston General Hospital children's ward. Mr James Griffin worked there for 18 years. At the time we were questioning the minister on this matter and the internal investigation that has been started by the Health department to look into that, the Premier was announcing a commission of inquiry, which is very welcome news.

The purpose of our scrutiny questions was to understand what the Minister for Health knew and when she knew it, and what the response of the department, the THS and the hospital has been, to contact any potential children who may have suffered abuse who went through the paediatric ward over that period and to support the staff who currently work at the LGH or previously worked at the LGH in the paediatric ward over that period.

That was the substance of our questions as well as seeking an assurance from the minister that the commission of inquiry would be very wide in its scope and leave no stone unturned, not simply about the systems and processes that enabled this abuser to remain in employment for 18 years, but the actions of individuals who either wilfully or passively did not act on complaints that were made, or may have altered or changed complaints that were made. That is the substance of allegations that have been broadcast on the podcast of the investigation conducted by journalist, Camille Bianchi.

The main concern we had was to understand what was known. It is clear from the minister's responses that she became aware on 31 July, the same day as Mr Griffin's Working with Vulnerable People card was revoked. What we now know is that the police investigation commenced in early May after a complaint was made on 1 May. The great concern we have is that there is a gap of around three months between when the investigation commenced and when the Working with Vulnerable People card was revoked that triggered Mr Griffin being removed from the hospital.

It is clear from the evidence that there were some months, and the commission of inquiry will determine exactly that length of time, where the police had evidence on Mr Griffin's phone of images that clearly demonstrated child sex abuse, either images that he created himself or other images he had on his phone, yet he remained working in the paediatric ward. That is a very concerning fact and in conversations I have had with staff at the LGH or heard their comments on the podcast, that is one of the things they found very difficult to understand and reconcile.

Although I accept that the minister has genuine intent to now look at the commission of inquiry's terms of reference that are broad and open, the facts are that the minister has been pushed and dragged essentially to the process of having the actions of that man opened up to a full commission of inquiry with the powers to do the job that is needed to make sure this does not happen again.

Although we spent a long time talking about the open disclosure process that was undertaken, it is clear from the evidence provided by either the minister, but mostly Ms Morgan-Wicks, that the whole open disclosure process as it currently exists in the LGH, and I assume it would be across the whole department, is inadequate for allegations of sexual abuse. It is designed for, as Ms Morgan-Wicks said -

When there has been an adverse event in terms of an outcome of a patient's presentation at a hospital or surgical procedure, for example, or otherwise to explain the care and treatment of a patient in hospital.

She goes on to talk about how that happens - 'social worker or a psychologist talking through the process with a patient as an adult or with their family'.

It is clear that it is trying to understand why an adverse event has occurred. It does not see an allegation of child sex abuse or a complaint about child sex abuse as an adverse event. It was pushed into that process but that is not an appropriate process.

It is clear from the evidence on the phone, from the police investigation of Mr Griffin, that allegations were made that he sedated children, young people, and that he touched them while they were sedated. This is not material that could be uncovered just by looking through the phone, which is what the department did. That process could not identify children where there was not a photograph on the phone.

A true open disclosure process still has not happened and it still needs to happen. There needs to be communication to all the people who went through the Launceston General Hospital paediatric ward over that period. There needs to be some form of communication. It will have to be thoughtfully considered. It is not okay for people to hear about things through the media and be triggered to remember things without having been reached out to by the Department of Health, which should have happened a year ago, to recognise what is happening, acknowledge there is a commission of inquiry and invite people to contact the department for support or to have their questions answered.

This is the minimum that needs to happen. I encourage the minister to undertake that work.