Woman needed hospital, not prison: inquest

·2-min read

Veronica Nelson should have been immediately taken to hospital rather than a cell at a Melbourne women's prison but a doctor refused, a nurse has told a Victorian coroner.

Veronica was brought into the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre on December 31, 2019, after she was refused bail on suspicion of shoplifting.

The Yorta Yorta woman died in a cell on January 2, 2020, from complications of Wilkie's syndrome, in a setting of withdrawal from heroin.

Registered nurse Stephanie Hills, who was involved in Veronica's first medical assessment on December 31, said she told the doctor Veronica should be hospitalised after finding her blood pressure and heart rate were extremely low.

But Ms Hills told the coroner the doctor refused, responding it was his decision and she was just a nurse.

The registered nurse, who broke down as she gave evidence on Monday, said Veronica could not hold herself upright during the medical assessment, instead slumping over an armrest.

Veronica also appeared confused, not alert, and she could not answer many of the questions, Ms Hill said.

While most medical assessments of new prisoners last 30 to 45 minutes, the court heard Veronica's consultation took about 15 minutes.

The doctor did not check Veronica's lungs, heart or abdomen, Ms Hills said, despite the assessments being common practice.

Ms Hill told the coroner she did not believe Veronica was adequately assessed.

"I made my concerns clear but I was put back in my place," she told the court.

"At the end of the day, it's the doctor's decision."

Evidence in the inquest will continue on Tuesday.

The hearing, which is expected to run for five weeks, is examining the adequacy of prison healthcare, the impact of Veronica's Aboriginality in her death, and Victorian bail laws.

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