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'We're transparent': Marshall defends Wade’s RAH secrecy

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Premier Steven Marshall has defended his Health Minister’s decision to conceal the Royal Adelaide Hospital infection spike from the public for almost a week.

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As InDaily exclusively revealed yesterday, more than two-dozen hip and knee replacement surgeries at the RAH have been cancelled in recent weeks after an audit showed a spike in the infection rate, more than three times above the acceptable range.

SA Health has placed a freeze on the procedures and is investigating the cause of infections among four patients who had had hip or knee surgery at the new hospital.

Health Minister Stephen Wade told Parliament yesterday afternoon that he was informed of the problem late last week, but suggested there was no need to reveal it to the public because medical staff were “dealing with the clinical issue appropriately”.

Marshall told reporters at a press conference this morning that Wade had done nothing wrong by sitting on the information – but also argued that “you cannot doubt the Liberal Party’s commitment to transparency”.

“I’m satisfied that Stephen Wade has acted in accordance with the expectations I’ve set for him,” said Marshall.

“I don’t think there’s anything untoward in the way he’s handled this … he is doing an excellent job.

“We’ll continue with our agenda for open, transparent government. That’s what we’ll be delivering. We’ve got nothing to hide.”

He said the Liberal Party had introduced shield laws into parliament to protect journalists, and to allow public ICAC hearings, and that it had a good record of open government.

“You cannot doubt the Liberal Party’s commitment to transparency,” he said.

The Opposition has accused the Government of hypocrisy.

“Stephen Wade has been exposed as a hypocrite – in Opposition, he pledged he would be open and transparent,” Labor Health spokesperson Chris Picton said in a statement today.

“He’s failed his first test.”

However, Marshall told reporters he would not “take any lectures from Labor, ever, about transparency”.

“They were the most secretive government … shielding the people of South Australia from their many atrocities.”

Wade told ABC Radio Adelaide this morning that the issue was being appropriately handled by medical staff.

“The issue was being orderly managed (and) it was a clinical concern,” he said.

“The public health alerts are primarily issued when the public needs to be aware of how to avoid a risk.

“Here we had a discrete group of patients who might have been affected and steps were being taken to protect them from the possibility of further infection.”

But Picton said Wade’s performance had not met the standard he set for himself in the lead-up to the last election.

“This was a serious enough issue (that) surgeries had to be cancelled at the hospital, where a committee had to be set up to investigate what’s gone on, where they had to brief the Minister, and they in fact prepared parliamentary briefing notes so the minister could answer it in question time,” Picton told the radio program.

“But the minister didn’t think it was important enough to tell the public … even when he was down at the Royal Adelaide Hospital yesterday talking about good news, he wasn’t prepared to talk about this bad news.

“It doesn’t meet the standard that he set for himself when he was the opposition where he said, quote, ‘if I’m fortunate enough to be the Minister for Health in a Marshall Liberal Government I will be demanding an open and transparent approach to mistakes in the health system.’”

SA President of the Australian Medical Association William Tam, speaking on ABC Radio Adelaide this morning, said his organisation only became aware of the infection spike yesterday.

Other doctors “not aware” of infection spike

Tam said heart surgeons and others using the same operating theatres may not have been aware of the issue.

He said that other specialties outside of orthopaedic surgery may not have known about the problem, even as they used the same operating theatres for their own patients.

“Unless you work in orthopaedic surgery – people in cardiology who do interventional stuff in the technical suites may not be aware of this,” he said.

But he stressed there was no evidence that the infection had spread to other areas of the hospital, and insisted it had strong infection control processes.

“So-far, there’s no reason to suspect that the infection rate will affect other disciplines,” he said.

He added that said different pathogens were involved in each of the infections “so we can say that there does not appear to be a point source”.

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