Our client’s 73-year-old mother tragically passed away as a result of an undiagnosed bowel obstruction. After presenting to hospital three times in two weeks, our client’s mother was finally admitted to hospital, where she died suddenly and unexpectedly.
Staff at a small regional hospital in the Hunter Valley failed to properly investigate and order appropriate tests (including radiology and blood tests) despite worsening signs and symptoms.
The manner of her mother’s death, especially the fact that it was preventable with reasonable care and treatment, caused our client to suffer a significant psychiatric injury.
We assisted our client to bring a claim in negligence, alleging that various hospital staff and medical officers breached their duty of care. We achieved a favourable settlement for our client, who received considerable compensation for her injuries and disabilities.
A tragic chain of events
The deceased presented to hospital three times in two weeks with increasing nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. Sadly, on the first two occasions, she was given painkillers and sent home.
After two weeks suffering with her signs and symptoms increasing, our client’s mother was finally admitted to hospital. By this time, she had decreased mobility, minimal tolerance for diet/fluids, nausea and diarrhoea. She was incorrectly diagnosed with simple malnutrition, treated with a saline drip and given analgesia for her abdominal pain.
Just two days later, she was found dead on the floor beside her hospital bed. An autopsy revealed the cause of her death as acute peritonitis, volvulus and infarct of the ilium. In essence, she died of an undiagnosed and untreated bowel obstruction.
Resulting trauma and consequences
As a result of her mother’s sudden and tragic death, our client’s life will never be the same. She developed a psychiatric injury and disabilities which are ongoing, and which have irreversibly impacted our client’s enjoyment and amenity of life. Our client now experiences great difficulty in finding and maintaining employment.
Our client also experienced great physical and financial upheaval because she had to re-locate from Melbourne to the Hunter Valley to care for her sick father after her mother’s sudden death. She left her community in Melbourne and her beloved job which resulted in social withdrawal and loss of income.
Damages for medical negligence
The case was ultimately settled out of court. Our client hopes her case will serve as a warning to others – if you have any concerns regarding the medical advice you are given, seek a second opinion.
A systemic problem?
This tragic story begs the question: are small regional hospitals with emergency departments sufficiently equipped to deal with medical emergencies?
All too often it seems regional Australian hospitals are under-resourced and under-staffed in terms of their capacity to care for emergency patients. This raises doubt as to whether several recommendations in the Garling Report (2008), have fallen on deaf ears. It is unfair to patients, their families, and the medical staff who also must bear the burden of an under-resourced system.
It is essential that adequate funding is allocated to small regional hospitals, to ensure that patients receive competent acute care and treatment.