Please note: This story contains reference to people who have died.


The Western Australian doctor who treated an Aboriginal woman who died in custody in 2014 has been found guilty of professional misconduct by the State Administrative Tribunal (SAT).

Dr Vafa Naderi treated 22-year-old Yamatji woman Ms Dhu at Hedland Health Campus in WA 24 hours before she was detained at South Hedland Police Station.

Ms Dhu was detained in August 2014 for unpaid fines and spent three days in custody before her death.

She died in custody from pneumonia and septicaemia caused by an infection in a rib that had been broken for weeks.

Dr Naderi has been fined $30,000 which is the maximum penalty imposed by SAT for professional misconduct. Despite the fine, the doctor will be allowed to keep his medical licence.

In 2016, the inquest into Ms Dhu’s death found that the conduct of police and medical professionals were inadequate, which led to the Medical Board of Australia accusing Dr Naderi of professional misconduct.

The inquest heard both police and Dr Naderi did not take Ms Dhu’s concerns about her sore ribs seriously and suggested she was lying and was a “junkie”.

Ms Dhu presented to the hospital three times and was assessed by Dr Naderi on her second visit.

On Friday the SAT found that Dr Naderi did not properly examine Ms Dhu, having inadequately read the nurse’s triage assessment which recorded Ms Dhu’s heart rate at 126 beats per minute.

When Ms Dhu presented to the hospital the previous day, her heart rate was 50 beats per minute less.

The doctor also did not order a chest x-ray or identify any illness, despite Ms Dhu reporting fever as a symptom. On her discharge paperwork, the doctor suggested she was withdrawing from drugs and said she was fit for custody.

“[He] failed to document the taking of a full history from Ms Dhu, which should have included the history of the injury, Ms Dhu’s symptoms and her background,” the SAT found.

“[He] failed to adequately record his reasons for making a clinical decision which he made in the care of Ms Dhu … [and he] did not record any treatment plan.”

Ms Dhu was taken by police to Hedland Health Campus less than 24 hours after her second visit. She was unresponsive on arrival and was later pronounced dead.

Dr Naderi accepted fault in his response to Ms Dhu and has since attempted to improve awareness and processes for sepsis.

“[He] takes full responsibility for his actions and remains deeply affected by the events of 3 August 2014,” the SAT found.

“He is remorseful about the catastrophic outcome for Ms Dhu and has insight into his management.”

By Rachael Knowles