Grand Prix doctors criticized in Melbourne

Ralf Schumacher, Jacques Villeneuve, Australian GP 2001

Ralf Schumacher, Jacques Villeneuve, Australian GP 2001 

 © The Cahier Archive

The Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria has ruled that two doctors involved in the 2001 Australian Grand Prix incident engaged in unprofessional conduct. A total of five doctors were investigated but three, all from the Alfred Hospital, were cleared of charges. But the Chief Medical Officer of the Grand Prix Dr. David Vissenga and his deputy Dr. Paul Temme were both criticized.

The Alfred Hospital has provided the medical services for the event since it began in 1996. The controversy surrounding the accident in 2001 arose because the time and location of Beveridge's death were changed so that the death was recorded as having occurred at Alfred Hospital and not in Albert Park.

This was highlighted by the coroner's report, which stated that "it is not appropriate that medical records be altered to show a different time of death to that which is regarded as a true and accurate time. In the future, once a treating clinician or any other medical practitioner makes an assessment that a person is deceased, whether at or on the track or elsewhere at the Albert Park circuit, the matter should be reported to the Coroner as soon as possible."

Following this report and a letter of complaint from another doctor to the Medical Practitioners Board, the investigation was launched.

The problem concerned the attempts to revive a marshal Graham Beveridge, who had been hit in the chest by a flying wheel. The three doctors who were cleared of the charges were working on Beveridge in the Circuit Medical Center until 14.47, thirty-seven minutes after the accident, when attempts to revive him were abandoned. This was noted by a nurse, present to record events. Dr. Temme then told the nurse to cross out the time and the record of the resuscitation ceasing and ordered that Beveridge be transferred to the hospital by helicopter with a doctor continuing cardiac massage. Beveridge arrived at the hospital at 15.05 and was declared dead at 15.08.

The board ruled that "directing a nurse or a medical practitioner to alter a record of what has happened to a patient or to write an incomplete account of what has occurred is a fundamental violation of appropriate professional behavior. That Dr. Temme felt the need to do this, and did not then question himself or others about whether this was appropriate, demonstrates a serious lack of judgement."

Dr. Vissenga was criticized for authorizing the transportation of Beveridge's body to the Alfred Hospital after he had been declared deceased. Vissenga was in race control throughout the incident but spoke to Temme on the phone and knew that Beveridge was dead. Vissenga's defence included a letter from FIA Medical Delegate Professor Sid Watkins, which stated that he was "a vastly-experienced and excellent chief medical officer and Australia's representative on the FIA Medical Commission". He has been the chief medical officer of CAMS, the Australian national sporting authority, since 1985 and chief medical officer of the Australian GP from 1986 onwards.

The panel found that Dr. Vissenga "was the person responsible for giving an order that compromised all other members of the medical care team. Despite his vast experience, that direction had no sensible basis."

Both men received warnings but no further penalty.

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