Northam Hospital, which has discharged five patients in 2½ years who died soon afterwards, appears to be beset by bad luck rather than bad doctors, Health Minister Kim Hames said this morning.
Responding to the addition of a fifth death to a Government review of the hospital, Dr Hames said there was no evidence to suggest the treating doctors did anything wrong.
Eva Dimer, 53, collapsed and was taken to Northam Hospital in July 2011 where she was treated for two hours, complaining of a headache.
She was sent home with Panadol and hydorolyte ice sticks after being diagnosed with dehydration, but collapsed again 30 hours later and died two days after that.
Dr Hames said someone presenting at hospital with those symptoms would have to undergo a range of tests before being sent home, which doctors carried out at Northam Hospital.
“What you do is go through the (patient’s) history very carefully, go through the story, past medical problems, and you do whatever tests are required but particularly whatever observations are required,” he said.
“And I’m advised that those things were done and were found to be acceptable to discharge a patient.”
Dr Hames said the cases, and the hospital’s administration nonetheless needed to be looked at to restore community confidence.
“The problem is that the people of Northam and all those country towns that feed into Northam will have lost confidence, in my view, in their ability to go to that hospital and get treatment,” he said.
The Government has tasked chief medical officer Gary Geelhoed with examining the five cases collectively to “see if there’s anything that ties them together, anything that the Government or the hospital should be doing to stop such tragic consequences continuing”.
But Dr Hames said apart from the death of Andrew Allan, 16, who died after the treating nurse did not present him to a doctor, the deaths did not appear to be the hospital’s fault.
“In all other cases, they were all seen by doctors, different doctors, and there is nothing yet to suggest that the doctors did anything wrong,” he said.
Asked if Northam was just unlucky, he said: “At this stage I can’t tell that, if they were just unlucky. On a superficial examination of the cases, it would appear so.”
“But five cases in a 2 ½ year period is too many for us to just take the attitude that that must be the case and we’ll just leave it all to the coroner,” he said.
As well as Dr Geelhoed’s review and the coronial investigations into individual cases, the Government intended to put eight or nine permanent, government-employed staff to work in Northam’s emergency department to assist the GPs who ran it.
The move, similar to the addition of 11 such staff at Albany Hospital, would allow confidence in Northam Hospital to be restored,” he said.