Families consider law suit

Stock image.
Stock image.

The move comes after a scathing report into the hospital’s clinical practices was delivered by WA chief medical officer Professor Gary Geelhoed, on Wednesday.

In the report, Prof Geelhoed recommended three doctors be referred to the Medical Board of Australia after their professional conduct was ‘thought to be below accepted standards of care.’

The trio have also been suspended from working at the hospital’s emergency department.

‘After reviewing the cases, I felt that some of the medical practitioners had questions to answer regarding their practice in specific cases,’ Prof Geelhoed said.

Eddy Saulys, of Northam, whose wife Janice died last year of renal complications after twice being treated at the hospital, said he would likely join a class-action suit seeking damages over the patient deaths.

He said he had been in contact with other families of patients who had died and together they planned to file a suit against the Government.

Prof Geelhoed said in his report there was sufficient evidence to suggest the system in place in the hospital’s emergency department had limitations.

There had been ‘poor communication, inadequate or absent handover of patients and confusion on who had responsibility for patients at any one time’, he said.

‘It is the opinion of the reviewer that many of the problems encountered in the Northam ED could have been anticipated and avoided by medical leadership with appropriate authority and experience,’ he said.

Prof Geelhoed said many of the factors that originally made for safe practice, such as fewer patients, a smaller number of doctors and less frequent handover of patients, no longer applied to Northam. The hospital’s emergency department had evolved in a relatively short time ‘from a nurse-led, quite country hospital to a busier regional centre’, Prof Geelhoed said.

Among the report’s key recommendations was that ‘consideration be given by WA Country Health Services to refer (the three doctors) to the Medical Board of Australia and withdrawal of their clinical privileges from the Northam Hospital ED.’

Prof Geelhoed also recommended Northam Hospital conduct ongoing training for medical staff and establish links with metropolitan hospitals, including Swan District Hospital.

WA Health director general Kim Snowball said until new doctors were appointed to fill the three vacant positions, the hospital’s roster would be filled by general practitioners and a qualified specialist.

‘Actions have already been taken to lift the standards of emergency services at Northam and the additional recommendations from Professor Geelhoed’s review will result in practical changes for the community in their emergency department,’ Mr Snowball said.

He said the WA Country Health Service was recruiting to fill the position of an emergency medical specialist at the hospital, a role called for by Prof Geelhoed in a preliminary report to WA Health Minister Kim Hames.

Dr Hames declined to comment on the report.