Perth Children’s Hospital nurses sounded alarm over staffing, safety weeks before girl’s tragic death
It’s taken the tragic death of a seven-year-old girl to blow wide open a crisis at Perth Children’s Hospital.
Aishwarya Aswath’s mother and father said she waited up to two hours for treatment in the emergency department while they pleaded for medical care.
Emergency department nurses say they have been pleading for help too, sounding the alarm a month ago about staffing issues and safety.
“We said it’d take a catastrophic situation before anything changed,” Australian Nursing Federation WA president Mark Olsen said.
“How prophetic that was. How sad that was.”
In a letter dated March 9, emergency nurses at WA’s only dedicated children’s hospital warned they had “grave concerns regarding the staffing levels and safety within our department”.
“There have been several incidents resulting in significant harm to patients in these past few months,” they wrote, saying they had first alerted management in December.
“Having had discussions with my colleagues, many of them now feel anxious about working in the department knowing they cannot deliver adequate care to all their patients.”
At one stage on that day, there were 93 young patients for just eight nurses, a ratio of 11 to one.
“Compare that to what’s going on in other states. It’s outrageously dangerous, outrageously dangerous,” Mr Olsen said.
And that understaffing could be fatal, as in the tragic case of Aishwarya, according to a witness who asked not to be named.
“Her parents were being polite and pleading with their eyes for help. Their little girl was lying across the chairs breathing rapidly and limp,” they said.
“Even when I saw the nurse finally take them into a room, they were treating them with no sense of urgency, no care.”
What happened on Saturday
Under Perth Children’s Hospital’s triage rules, the seven-year-old should have been classified as an emergency and seen within 10 minutes.
But on Saturday night wait times blew out to an average of 72 minutes.
WA Health Minister Roger Cook fronted the cameras on Tuesday, facing heavy questioning over the incident.
“It may be that triaging was wrong,” he said.
“It may be that the triaging was correct but then other events took place.”
Aishwarya waited about 120 minutes, the amount of time only allowed for non-urgent cases.
“I actually went to the reception four or five times and I asked them to look at her,” mother Prasitha Sasidharan said.
“I was begging.”
An investigation is underway into what went wrong.
“We will do everything we can to provide them with the answers about what happened for their little girl,” Mr Cook said.
Other parents come forward
Since revealing Aishwarya’s devastating story last night, Nine News has been inundated with dozens of Perth Children’s hospital’s emergency department stories from parents.
Some tell of a casual disregard for their children’s health, while others reveal dangerous delays.
Rachael Berne took her 11-month-old son Jaxon to PCH with a temperature of nearly 40C.
His condition was wrongly dismissed as the flu, Ms Berne said.
When the worried mother went to Midland Hospital it was discovered he had a bacterial infection, which would have killed him if he didn’t get antibiotics.
“It’s scary when you get to the point when he’s just laying lifeless,” she told 9News.
The parents of another 10-month-old who has a serious heart condition say when they took him to PCH with a rash and fever they were made to wait for three and a half hours for treatment.
Another child, a four-year-old with a broken arm, ended up with a nerve and pressure injury after a cast was wrongly fitted.
Mr Cook said the health system was performing “incredibly well under pressure”, but admitted it was overstressed by a demand that was “at times overwhelming”.
“It’s overstressed not just from the COVID experience but the impact of post-COVID presentations,” he said.
The hospital has begun a review to discover the cause of death and the coroner is also investigating.
Hospital management expressed its condolences to the family and offered to provide any support possible