Coast's only pathologist says he didn't retire - he quit

Professor Peter Ellis, the former Sunshine Coast forensic pathologist quit after plans for a major regional facility at the new Sunshine Coast University Hospital were thrown into doubt.
Professor Peter Ellis, the former Sunshine Coast forensic pathologist quit after plans for a major regional facility at the new Sunshine Coast University Hospital were thrown into doubt. allan Taylor

THE former forensic pathologist working from Nambour General Hospital did not retire last year but resigned, a decision he says was based primarily on a State Government policy shift which robbed the new Sunshine Coast University Hospital of what had been intended to be a major unit to service an area from North Brisbane to Wide Bay.

Professor Peter Ellis who was the resident senior forensic pathologist for the Sunshine Coast from 2006 until October last year identified the remains of Daniel Morcombe after they were located and played a significant role in victim identification after the Boxing Day tsunami.

He is now an adjunct professor at Griffith University and heads Interpol's Disaster Victims Identification Committee.

The SCD reported on Wednesday Prof Ellis' departure meant bodies were now being sent to Brisbane at a cost of $1200 return and with delays of up to 12 days before their release to loved ones.

A Queensland Health spokesperson in response to questions about those costs and delays said "coronial autopsies were previously undertaken on the Sunshine Coast, however the local forensic pathologist retired late last year and cases are now being managed by Forensic and Scientific Services (FSS) in Brisbane".

Prof Ellis has revealed he was deeply involved over many years with Forensic and Scientific Services in the design and planning of a facility at the Sunshine Coast University Hospital which would be large enough and well-appointed with the latest testing equipment including Cat scanners to deal with a large number of cases drawn from central Queensland to north of Brisbane.

He said the idea was to have more than one pathologist on staff which could also assist investigation police at the scene of suspicious deaths to help determine if a potential homicide had occurred.

However two years ago a decision appeared to have been made unilaterally to rationalise forensic pathology services to Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Townsville with none on the Sunshine Coast, Central Queensland or Toowoomba.

Professor Ellis made approaches to reverse what he said was not a wise decision and which was detrimental to the Sunshine Coast.

He said it meant loved ones were taken away for examination taking longer for them to be returned and that police lost direct contact with a forensic pathologist who was now up to two hours away from where they may be needed. The region has been left without a high level investigation facility.

Professor Ellis said that with a brand new hospital and the facility originally planned and because of its location, there would have been no problem filling forensic pathologist positions despite a world wide shortage.

"The decision was the main reason I left," he said. "The position is being advertised to be filled. The position is in Brisbane."

A Queensland Health spokesperson said no decision has been made about a centralised model for statewide management of coronial autopsies.

An interagency working group including Health, Police and the Department of Justice was established to develop a joint proposal for the most effective and most sustainable model. It would meet for the first time in coming weeks. 

Until a final model was determined coronial autopsies from the Sunshine Coast would continue to be undertaken in Brisbane.

Topics:  brisbane sunshine coast university hospital

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