After the recent deaths of two children at Western Australia's rural Northam Hospital, there are calls for an inquiry.
12 day-old Lachlan died shortly after being sent home from the hospital in Northam, 100 kilometres north-east of Perth. The baby had difficulty breathing and started coughing up mucus. Mr. Huges, the father of the baby said, “The midwife, actually the first night my wife took him in there, turned around to us and said straight out 'I hope you're not one of those mothers that worry about your kids coming up every five minutes for a cough'…We just went up there because he was sick on two occasions. He was choking on ‘phlegmy stuff’ so we took him up there to get assessed and the midwife up there said 'nothing wrong with him, he's got a blocked nose and that was it'.” He explained that, “They sent him home with a nasal spray. I went up there the next night and got the same thing but I actually saw a doctor and they did the same thing to me as well. They said there's nothing wrong with him…We're absolutely angry because it's only a month later and the system hasn't changed much at all.”
According to Health Minister Kim Hames it appears the baby died from whooping cough. He said, “It's a health professionals worst nightmare that you treat someone and think that they're ok, think you've made the right decision and it turns out you were wrong…Much worse, of course, for the family involved who for them it's obviously a dreadful experience.”
In another incident a 16 year-old boy Andrew Allan died after being sent home from the same hospital last week without seeing a doctor. According to Mr. Allan, the father, Andrew had been sick for a number of days when he arrived at Northam Hospital with his mother on Thursday, very weak, vomiting and with a high temperature. The teenager was sent home with some paracetamol and without being examined by the doctor, despite objections from his mother. Before they knew it their son was dead next morning. He says he does not blame the health system. “I have friends who do this work, they're fantastic people but because one person makes a mistake you can't label every person in the health system,” he said.
The coroner is now looking into evidence from the inquiry by the WA Country Health Service. Acting CEO of the service Wayne Salvage said the service would co-operate with any coronial inquiry into the death. While expressing his condolences he said that it was hospital protocol for patients to first be assessed by a nurse.
According to Australian Medical Association's Dr David Mountain the inquiry will look into the matter as to why Andrew was not seen by a doctor. “The fact is that the people who are trained to actually make diagnoses in our system, and to actually assess people properly for discharge or admission criteria are doctors…And that's I'm sure a patient's expectation when they go to an emergency department and that's certainly our expectation.”
Health Minister Kim Hames confirmed the decision not to contact a doctor was made by a nurse who believed the schoolboy had a viral infection. He offered his deepest sympathy to the family and said protocols would change if the investigation showed it was necessary. However he defended the nurses’ decision making saying, “A properly trained nurse is just as good as a doctor in recognising a potentially serious medical problem… I've done work like that for years and years (as a former GP) and if a nurse practitioner called me in for every fever or vomiting you’d never get any sleep.”
The State Opposition's Health spokesman Roger Cook criticized the fact that no doctor was available at one of the largest hospitals in the Wheatbelt.