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The private healthcare company responsible for giving two elderly people the wrong vaccine dose last week has previously failed to check its employees’ training and qualifications.
Healthcare Australia was selected to help the government with its rollout of the Covid-19 jab, despite a previous case where it did not adequately screen a member of staff for training and qualifications.
Healthcare Australia, one of four private contractors working on the Covid-19 vaccination program, was publicly condemned by the federal and Queensland governments last week, after one of its doctors administered four times the recommended dose of the Pfizer vaccine to an 84-year-old man and a 94-year-old woman at the Holy Spirit facility in Carseldine.
It soon emerged that the doctor had not completed mandated training on administering the Pfizer vaccine, and, when interrogated about the mistake, provided “clearly false information” to government, according to health minister Greg Hunt.
The incident prompted its chief executive Jason Cartwright to stand aside, slowed down the vaccine rollout, and may yet see the company referred to the regulator or lead to its contract being cancelled.
But the Guardian can reveal it is not the first time the company has failed to properly screen an employee’s qualifications and training.
In the Northern Territory, Healthcare Australia failed to check basic documents used by a man who was fraudulently claiming to be a nurse to gain work.
The man had no experience, qualifications, or training, but through HCA, was able to work as an agency nurse in Royal Darwin hospital’s intensive care and emergency departments in 2014.
The fake nurse, who was jailed in 2017 for his actions, gained the job by giving HCA’s Northern Territory operations manager a “forged document which had the appearance of an Australian Health Practitioners Registration Board registration document”.
“This document was not checked. You have never been registered with the Australian Health Practitioners Registration Board in any capacity,” NT supreme court justice Dean Mildren, the sentencing judge in 2017, told the offender.
“The rest of your nurse file was then checked by Healthcare Australia and, as a result, your reactivation in the [agency nurse] database was authorised. The file contained various documents, including a referee check sheet that was apparently signed by another staff member. It was subsequently revealed that this, in fact, had not happened.”
He went on to work six shifts at Royal Darwin hospital, administering drugs, taking blood, cleaning wounds, moving patients in bed, and applying dressings. He worked in the intensive care, critical care, and paediatric units, treating patients with sepsis, pneumonia, and severe diabetic ketoacidosis.
The man then went on to work in Queensland and Western Australia, though not with HCA. No one was harmed through his work.
Despite both the Covid-19 error and the NT error involving a failure to properly screen staff, HCA said there is no connection between the two cases.
A spokesman said the first involved fraud and the most recent Covid-19 vaccination error did not.
“There is no suggestion of alleged fraud in relation to last week’s incident in Brisbane, so any implication that these cases are associated is incorrect,” he said.
“An internal review of last week’s incident is underway and HCA will not be commenting further until it has been completed.”
The NT case was made public well before the government decided to hand the Covid-19 contract to HCA.
Asked why it handed the company work, given its history, the government said the contract process was open and competitive.
“HCA has been employed through the pandemic under states [and] territory Covid-19 processes, including hotel quarantine in New South Wales, the Northern Territory, and Western Australia, as well as Covid testing clinics is WA, Victoria and New South Wales,” a spokesman for Hunt said.
“The department of health conducted a thorough competitive procurement process to identify options for the provision of vaccine administration services. Through this process Healthcare Australia, International SOS, Sonic Clinical Services and Aspen were selected.”
HCA said all of its staff have now undergone the required training, something the government has independently verified.
The government has also embedded the former Commonwealth chief nurse into the HCA management team to “independently verify their systems, protocols and training, and also to conduct site visits with the vaccine teams”.
“The Australian government has at all times made it abundantly clear that safety cannot be compromised,” the government spokesman said. “The doctor involved in the incorrect administration incident has been stood down and will not be involved with administering the Covid‑19 vaccine at other residential aged care facilities.
“This breach of quality and safety is unacceptable and the company has been put on notice by the secretary of the department of health that any further breach could see their contract terminated.”
Source: The Guardian
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