New Test Results 06-07
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Toxic Toxicology & QHFSS Response
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QHFSS (Queensland Health Forensic and Scientific Services) Response of 12.10.07 to “Exhibit A” from Mitch’s Resumed Inquest of 1.09.07.

Comments by Patrick Collins (father or the late Mitch Collins).

Note: QHFSS, sometimes referred to as the John Tonge Centre, was formerly known as QHSS (Queensland Health Scientific Services).

Foreword: An adjacent home page menu heading - New Tests from 2006-07 - leads to an article titled: “New Tests from 2006-07 Indicate that Mitch Collins Orally Consumed Heroin”. I stated in that paper that we had not received a copy of QHFSS’s response to “Exhibit A”, which Magistrate Halliday had tabled on 1.09.06, when he concluded Mitch’s resumed inquest. The State Coroner has, however, subsequently provided us with a copy of the QHFSS response. I also stated that this was to be compiled by Professor Charles Naylor, Chief Forensic Pathologist. The formal response was though signed by Mr Greg Shaw, Senior Director at QHFSS, after consultation with Professor Naylor. The text of “Exhibit A” is included under the adjacent home page menu heading: Toxic Toxicology.

The full text of Mr Shaw’s three-page report is not included here, as we do not have governmental permission to publish it. However, we will make it available for reading by seriously interested persons, including journalists, lawyers, scientists, Mitch’s friends and extended family members. The following summary does though address every key aspect of Mr Shaw’s QHFSS report.

Constructive Change Recommended: i.e. re senior forensic scientific staff.

The major positive outcome from Professor Naylor and Mr Shaw’s considerations includes the following verbatim acknowledgement, and associated recommendation, about senior forensic science staffing at QHFSS.

“…it is recognised that there are uncommon cases, such as the death of Mitch Collins, that do require a level of toxicological or pharmaceutical expertise that QHFSS scientists and pathologists generally do not possess. ….

“The option currently available is to seek advice when necessary from an interstate expert, as there are none to my knowledge practising in Queensland. Professor Olaf Drummer … is one of the few acknowledged Australian experts.”

“A longer term option would be to encourage an academic medical pharmacologist based at a Queensland university to develop a research interest in forensic toxicology and to establish a jointly funded position. QHFSS is currently exploring formalising the first option and fostering the second, but would welcome any workable additional suggestions.”

Comment by Patrick Collins: We have since written to Health Minister Stephen Robertson to encourage him to employ a “medical pharmacologist” at QHFSS. We emphasised that this pharmacologist’s qualifications should include the basic medical degrees of M.B. and B.S. (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery). For instance, Professor Drummer (from his resume) is a “Doctor of Philosophy in Medicine (PhD)”. This verifies that he is a highly qualified scientist, but he is not a qualified medical doctor in the sense that this applies to those who are qualified to treat sick or injured people. It is our contention that scientists who are not also medical doctors are handicapped when forming opinions about drug related deaths. Eg. Professor Drummer speculated that morphine could have entered Mitch’s stomach in either bile or blood. However, Drummer did not seek evidence to support his speculations. By contrast, Professor Cooksley from the QIMR advised us to have Mitch’s stomach contents analysed for the presence of bile or blood. The test results indicated that neither could have been the source of Mitch’s gastric morphine.

From the above, it is our opinion that if QHFSS does not engage a highly competent medically trained pharmacologist, forensic science evidence about drug-related deaths in Queensland Courts should be regarded as secondary to environmental evidence. While the current situation prevails, the DPP effectively allows experts such as Professor Drummer to replace juries and judges. This legal cop-out is morally wrong. Accordingly, Queensland Health should, as we recently suggested to the Health Minister, employ an appropriate expert who could, in addition to interpreting forensic test results etc, establish a Forensic Toxicology research centre at QHFSS. This centre could, in addition to providing services to Queensland, market its services to other states: i.e. it could be a much needed credible alternative to Professor Drummer and the Victorian Institute of Forensic Science.  

Possible Constructive Change, relevant to our Recommendations 3, 4, 5, 6, & 12 in “Exhibit A”:

The following statement by Mr Shaw suggests that Queensland Health may establish credible procedures to examine complaints about inadequate forensic science testing and interpretation by QHFSS and interstate experts. Mr Shaw stated:

“QHFSS is ready – should there be a consensus that existing procedures require improvement – to work with other agencies to consider recommendations such as that regarding “complaints about forensic scientific evidence … in Queensland”. This would involve not only QHFSS, but also other areas of Queensland Health, the Courts, the Queensland Police Service, and the Department of Justice and Attorney General.”

Hopefully something will come of the above, for there is no doubt that our evidence in Magistrate Halliday’s “Exhibit A” verifies there is a need.

Re our Recommendations 2, 9, 10, 13, 14, & 15 (in “Exhibit A”):

We have no idea what, if anything is to be done about these for Mr Shaw simply stated:

“These have been implemented, or are under “active consideration and implementation where relevant” as recommended by the Coroner [Magistrate Halliday].”

When we asked Professor Naylor about what specific implementations had been made, he told us that these would be dealt with as the need arises. Hopefully this will happen but whether it does or not we will probably never know. However, in relation to “No 9” from the above list, which was about providing next of kin with meaningful information about autopsies, Mr Shaw stated:

“… seven coronial counsellors [are now] available to assist families, compared with only one counsellor in 2000 when Mitchell Collins died. Counsellors involve pathologists when necessary to ensure families receive sufficient information about autopsies.”

The extra counsellors were not engaged as a result of “Exhibit A”. However, while we are pleased that they are now available, we do not accept that counsellors are competent to relay complex scientific interpretations adequately. A senior counsellor at QHFSS recently agreed with us about this. We therefore continue to maintain that when next-of-kin seek forensic science interpretations, they should be provided with access to senior scientific staff, especially pathologists. If we had been granted this in early 2001, we may have avoided seven years of related study and associated submissions to coroners, the DPP, the Health Minister and the Attorney General. Associated governmental expenditure would also have been much less.

Re our Recommendations 7, 8, & 11 (in “Exhibit A”):

We accept that these were not the responsibility of QHFSS, as pointed out by Mr Shaw. It is though pertinent to mention that when we made these recommendations via Magistrate Halliday, we did not address them to QHFSS. It is of course possible that they have now been considered by appropriate others, but, if so, we have not been informed.

Mr Shaw’s Conclusions:

Mr Shaw’s conclusions, in essence, drew attention to changes that have been instigated by QHFSS since Mitch’s death. These included Actions 32 and 59, which have been implemented since recommended in a “Report” by a Ministerial Task Force in 2005. The first addressed the need to “develop standards for autopsy and mortuary services in Queensland … including … consistent autopsy practices and procedures. The second addressed deficits in formal training and accreditation for scientists who would “give evidence in Court”.

We acknowledge the value of both of the above. However, as pointed out by us in “Exhibit A”, many of our concerns were not addressed by the Report from the Ministerial Task Force (see: www.health.qld.gov.au/forensic_review). Also, some of the substandard practices that we addressed, occurred after the above Report was published.

Summary:

Insufficient time has passed to determine how seriously our concerns have been taken into account. However, to be fair to Mr Shaw, Professor Naylor and to the Minister for Health - based on the recent co-operation we have received from these senior personnel - we are optimistic that constructive change is a very real possibility. But, we emphasise that no real change will occur if the Queensland Government continues to rely on southern experts for forensic science opinions. The employment of a senior medically trained pharmacologist or similar, by QHFSS, is the minimum intervention that must be instigated, if next-of-kin and Queensland Courts are to be presented with optimal post-mortem forensic science evidence.

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