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Alarm over Sydney hospital deaths -

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Alarm over Sydney hospital deaths

The World Today - Tuesday, 26 August , 2008 12:25:00

Reporter: Michael Edwards

ELEANOR HALL: There's alarm today over the state of health care in New South Wales with the
revelation that 61 patients died over a two year period in hospitals in Western Sydney because of
inadequate care.

The internal Health Department review found that surgical materials or instruments were left in
some patients, others were wrongly diagnosed and there were operations performed on the wrong
people or wrong body parts. The New South Wales Opposition says it is appalled by the revelations
but the Health Minster is so far refusing to comment.

Michael Edwards has our report.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: The Sydney West Area Health Service covers one of the heaviest populated regions
in the country. Professor Steven Boyages is its chief executive.

STEVEN BOYAGES: In any one year we treat 190 000 in-patients, over 3.5 million out-patients, we
deliver about 23 000 babies and we do about 45 000 surgical procedures.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: Professor Boyages says it's a service that operates efficiently despite the
pressures placed upon it. However, internal Health Department documents have revealed over previous
two years as many as 61 people died in Western Sydney hospitals because they didn't receive
adequate care.

The problems included surgical materials or instruments being left in patients, wrong diagnoses and
operations performed on the wrong people or wrong body parts. Professor Boyages says while the
deaths are regrettable, they represent less than point one of a per cent of all deaths in the
system each year.

And he says the Health Service's notification and reporting system works well.

STEVEN BOYAGES: The message that comes across consistently is that the notification system is
working well. Our investigating teams are working well, the patterns of care that we identify are
becoming much more robust and the learnings that we adopt from these types of investigation are
then being fed back into the organisation.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: The New South Wales Liberal Opposition Health Spokeswoman Gillian Skinner says the
situation is unacceptable.

GILLIAN SKINNER: This is appalling, the fact that these were avoidable deaths, that these patients
went to hospital to get better, not worse that so many of them are attributed to the staff not
picking up on a deteriorating condition of these patients.

The thing that worries me is that Reba Meagher has been warned time and again by doctors, nurses
and others that a lack of resources particularly a shortage of acute care beds, a shortage of
experienced nursing and medical staff and a failure to invest appropriately in IT and other
communications technology would have a terrible impact on hospitals. Well here it is.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: And doctors are also alarmed at the situation. Dr Tony Joseph is from the
Australasian College of Emergency Medicine. He says it's an indication some doctors are lacking
training and supervision.

TONY JOSEPH: Certainly from the point of view of misdiagnoses or delayed diagnosis, you often find
that these involve junior staff, both medical and nursing who are working unsupervised. So without
proper supervision and often don't quite understand when patients deteriorate or some of the
clinical signs that patients may present with which may signal some sinister underlying problem.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: Dr Joseph says the New South Wales Government must develop a better safety system
within its public hospitals.

TONY JOSEPH: Well I think that they need to actively promote an air of safety that is we need to
really look seriously at the adverse events that are occurring in our public hospitals. There needs
to be mandatory reporting of these. Then they need to go about providing a safe system, so we know
that you have senior staff involved early in the management paces, there's less critical incidents
and better outcomes for patients.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: The New South Wales Health Minister Reba Meagher is not commenting on the deaths.

ELEANOR HALL: Michael Edwards in Sydney with that report.