By Lauren Pilat
A mother who was at Perth Children’s Hospital the night Aishwarya Aswath died says the seven-year-old was the child in the worst condition in the emergency department but didn’t get the attention she deserved, with staff preoccupied with a violent teenager.
Aishwarya’s parents rushed her to hospital on Saturday with a fever but she died following a two-hour wait in the emergency department, despite multiple pleas for help, telling staff she was getting worse.
The mother, who asked to remain anonymous, was at PCH with her one-year-old son Saturday night and told WAtoday she watched on as Aishwarya struggled to keep her head up while hospital staff tried to give her painkillers.
“Surely the severity of something like this should have been alarm bells,” she said.
“I too went to the reception desk on multiple occasions and agree with [Aishwayra’s mum] saying they were negligent because they were.”
The mother said they were told the sickest child would get treated first but she felt that wasn’t the case.
“The whole process there on that night was deplorable,” she said. “This whole system failed that young family and my heart breaks for them.
“I saw her and said to my partner, ‘Gosh she’s so unwell’. She would have easily been the most unwell in the whole ED that I saw and yet she didn’t get the attention she deserved.”
The mother, who was emotionally affected by the situation, said PCH ED was so understaffed the night Aishwarya died that the hospital “should be ashamed”.
“A violent teenager was there for whatever reason and she demanded the attention of four nurses yet actual sick kids were left in waiting rooms for hours,” she said.
“We waited seven hours to finally see a doctor who then was checking my son for meningococcal.”
However, the mother said her son actually had hand, foot and mouth disease that should have been picked up by the triage nurse.
“But it wasn’t and he was in the waiting room with a highly contagious disease among young kids for six hours touching things and playing with stuff,” she said.
With a public holiday and no medical centres open, the mother questioned why no one had the foresight to predict a busy weekend.
“Inside the hospital, they have signs that said two to six-hour wait times,” she said. “Like that is an acceptable time for sick kids. The government needs to step up here. I’m appalled.”
On Tuesday, Australian Medical Association WA president Andrew Miller called for an independent inquiry into Aishwarya’s death, that wouldn’t “trot out the same excuses the Health Department is using in overloaded emergency departments”.
“It’s devastating that a tragedy like this has occurred with a child who should have been seen much sooner within our emergency department system,” he said.
“This is not the fault of the staff who have been working extended overtime and been burning out with ambulance ramping months on end now.”
Dr Miller told Radio 6PR the waiting time in the ED on Saturday for people categorised as non-urgent was beyond the recommended boundaries.
He said Aishwarya waited 120 minutes – but the average wait was 72 minutes and is supposed to be under an hour for sick children.
“Now if we don’t want to pour our resources into anything else in this state, we should be pouring it into making sure that children who are urgently sick and unwell, whose parents bring them in to be seen, actually get seen by somebody quickly,” Dr Miller said.
“They’re waiting in ambulances and most often we get away with it. But occasionally there’s a tragedy like this one. No parent could look at the situation and no human could look at this situation and not be devastated.“
Dr Miller said families needed to know everything possible was done, even if the worst outcome was unavoidable, which was sometimes the case in dramatic childhood illnesses.
“The health system didn’t see the child in time to be able to reassure [the family] to say ‘Yes, we did everything we could have for your daughter’,” he said.
“Why is it we live in a rich state, and people are waiting periods of time that make the disease worse every day in our emergency departments?”
Perth Children’s Hospital has been contacted for comment.
Lauren is a part-time journalist at WAtoday, with a special focus on social justice issues, education, and breaking news.