MELBOURNE, Australia, May 16, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Fifty women who contracted the hepatitis C virus or are carrying the hepatitis C antibody after undergoing a procedure at the notorious Croydon Day Surgery in Melbourne have launched a class action in the Supreme Court of Victoria.

Law firm Slater & Gordon filed the lawsuit against anesthetist Dr James Latham Peters, the director of the former Croydon Day Surgery Dr. Mark Schulberg, and the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency.

It is believed to be the first time that a personal injury class action has been lodged against a medical practitioner regulator in Australia.

The 50 women in the class action had all been diagnosed with the virus or the antibody after attending the Croydon Day Surgery between January 2008 and December 2009.

Dr. Peters was the anesthetist for all 50 women when they attended the clinic.

Peters was suspended by the Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria (MPBV) in February 2010 after he was placed under police investigation.

Slater & Gordon practice group leader Julie Clayton said: “It is extraordinary that these 50 women contracted the hepatitis C virus or hepatitis C antibody over a period of almost 2 years as a result of procedures performed in the one clinic. We can’t see how this could occur if reasonable infection control procedures were followed.”

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“These women have been infected with the same strain of hepatitis C as that of the performing anaesthetist. We believe that this demonstrates that there has been a very serious breach of basic medical standards,” Ms. Clayton said.

Ms. Clayton said the MPBV (now assumed into the Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Agency) was responsible for overseeing Dr. Peters’ medical registration and failed in its duty to minimize the community’s exposure to health risks.

Peters, 62, who now works as a courier, is separately facing 162 criminal charges related to the infections. His committal hearing will resume on Monday.

A court heard last year that the prosecution would allege that Peters used needles to inject himself before using them on his patients. He is also alleged to have been aware that he had the virus for more than 10 years previously.

Peters had treated around 3500 women since he began work at the surgery in 2006, nearly all of whom were tested by the Victorian Health Department by May last year. Peters had also worked at the Fertility Control Clinic in East Melbourne, St Albans Endoscopy Centre and the Western Day Surgery. None of his patients at these other clinics tested positive to hepatitis C that could be linked to him.

Peters had a history of illicitly injecting himself with painkillers, and in 1996 he was convicted and given a suspended jail term for forging prescriptions for an opioid for himself and his wife.  In 2009 Peters was charged with possessing child pornography.

The class action is not expected to be heard for another twelve months.

The lead plaintiff and all women involved in the class action litigation will remain anonymous.

Ms. Clayton said compensation was being sought for pain and suffering, medical expenses, and any loss of income.

The Croydon Day Surgery was set up in Melbourne in 1998 by David Grundmann and Mark Schulberg - the only two Australian doctors known to perform late-term abortions. It originally performed abortions up to 19 weeks. Sometime before 2004, the clinic started performing abortions after 20 weeks. A woman died after having “a procedure” there last December. On Australia Day this year (January 26) the clinic announced it would no longer perform late-term abortions.

In August 2011, a 40-year-old woman was left fighting for her life in a nearby hospital after Dr. Schulberg performed a late-term abortion on her.

In 2010, Dr Schulberg was found guilty of inappropriately prescribing painkillers. In 2009 he was found guilty of unprofessional conduct for failing to gain legal consent to perform a late-term abortion on an intellectually disabled woman. The abortion was organized by the woman’s father, who was later jailed for her rape.

In 2008, it was reported that Schulberg performed 2000 abortions per year. However, despite his sordid history, Schulberg continues to practice as a GP at a in Hawthorne East.

Meanwhile, a nurse at the Croydon clinic, Carol Ann Richards, 68, has faced court after allegedly disclosing information about the police investigation to a person under investigation at the centre.