Investigation launched into claims fake patients used during Victorian minister’s hospital visit | Victorian politics

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Victoria’s health department is investigating allegations staff and family members at a regional hospital posed as patients during a visit from the state’s health minister, Mary-Anne Thomas.

The Colac Herald on Wednesday reported allegations that at least 10 people, who were not unwell, were inside Colac Area Health’s urgent care clinic during Thomas’ visit in August 2023.

The Department of Health on Thursday confirmed a complaint had been made about the incident and an investigation was under way.

“We’re working closely with Colac Area Health on the matter and it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time,” a spokesperson said.

Thomas told reporters in Daylesford on Thursday she was aware of the investigation.

“If these allegations prove to be true this is a very significant breach of trust that has been perpetrated by some in the health service, and I certainly would take a very dim view of any employees or others who have been involved in this,” she said.

The Colac Herald reported that it was alleged some hospital staff and their family members posed as patients, including one person who arrived by ambulance.

Their arrivals at the clinic were reportedly recorded by Colac Area Health and then cancelled after the minister left without being discharged.

Thomas recalled on Thursday that the emergency ward was busy during her visit but she had “no reason to be suspicious”. She also ruled out any involvement from her office.

“This has nothing whatsoever to do with my office and if anyone is suggesting that I take great offence,” Thomas said.

“I don’t need anyone to tell me that our hospitals are under pressure. I visit health services all the time. I see what’s happening on the ground.”

Guardian Australia understands the allegations were first reported to the Victorian Public Sector Commission in late August 2023, with Thomas and her office notified at the time.

The matter was then referred to the state’s anti-corruption watchdog, the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission, which found the issue was not within its remit.

It was later referred to the Victorian ombudsman, who notified the department last week that they were not investigating further.

It was at this point that the department begun its own investigation, which will be handed to Thomas’ office “in due course”.

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The chair of the board at Colac Area Health, Timothy Greene, said he was aware of an “anonymous complaint”, which was being “appropriately actioned”.

“Our community is at the heart of everything we do, and we take all complaints and feedback seriously,” he said.

“We are unable to comment further at this time.”

A media release, published on the day of Thomas’ visit, said she was visiting the clinic to “see the positive impact of equipment upgrades on staff and patients”.

She said the clinic had been provided with 13 new cardiac monitors, two central cardiac monitoring screens and two electrocardiograph strip printers that would ensure patients would no longer need to travel out of the region to access the services they need.

According to a social media post from Colac Area Health on the same day, she was accompanied on her tour by Green, the hospital’s chief executive, Fiona Brew, and the director of nursing and a nurse unit manager.

A government spokesperson said ministerial visits to health services and other events were organised directly by hospitals with support from the health department.