By Fran Rimrod
Western Australia’s nurses’ union boss says he raised red flags about the dire state of Perth Children’s Hospital with Health Minister Roger Cook a week before the state election — a claim Mr Cook flatly denied in a heated press briefing on Tuesday afternoon.
Australian Nursing Federation state secretary Mark Olson told 6PR’s Liam Bartlett he would only call the minister on rare occasions, about four to five times a year when he had an urgent issue, so as not to waste his “political capital”.
In the wake of the tragic death of seven-year-old Aishwarya Aswath after a two-hour wait at PCH’s emergency department on Saturday, it was revealed on Tuesday a nurse at the hospital had sent a letter to Mr Olson warning him of staffing levels and patient safety within the department.
The nurse said grave concerns over the issues had been raised at a meeting with hospital executives before Christmas. But further meetings were postponed. She said concerns were downplayed, dismissed or ignored by the executive team.
Mr Olson said he spoke to Mr Cook the week before the WA election to alert him to the problems in PCH’s emergency department.
“When I have these conversations, it’s about saying, ‘This is a problem’,” Mr Olsen said.
“And I said, ‘I’m going to meet with the nurses in the next week or two and I just don’t want you to be the last person to know about this’.”
In a press briefing on Tuesday afternoon, Mr Cook denied receiving a specific phone call in the last month about concerns at PCH and staff worries when questioned by Nine News Perth reporter Gary Adshead.
Mr Olsen said the lack of staffing was also raised with hospital executives when the code yellows were declared about two weeks ago.
Nurses at PCH also told Mr Olson the hospital — which boasts state-of-the-art facilities — had no dedicated resuscitation team.
“When you have a resuscitation or a similar type of emergency coming through the department, those people have to be pulled from other areas of the department,” he said.
“And that will leave those other areas, or the department generally, a little bit shorter staffed. And that’s why it’s becoming the norm in that department to have up to 90 patients being looked after by seven or eight or nine nurses.”
Mr Olson said the nurses told the hospital executive it would take a “catastrophic event” for something to be done.
“And when that catastrophic event occurs, you’re going to throw the nurses under the bus, they are going to be your scapegoats, and how prophetic that was,” he said.
While not being drawn into speculation about what could have cause Aishwarya’s death, Mr Olson said if there was not enough staff, routine checks performed during the triage process would fall away.
“The propensity for mistakes to occur is going to be far greater [if there is not enough staff]. Your propensity for mistakes to occur is going to be far greater if your staff is burned out because they are doing unparalleled levels of overtime and double shifts,” he said.