Hospital action call after WA girl's death

A girl died after waiting two hours in the emergency department of Perth Children's Hospital.
A girl died after waiting two hours in the emergency department of Perth Children's Hospital.

Western Australia's besieged health minister admits hospital staff are being stretched too thin and are at risk of burnout.

The public health system is under scrutiny after the death of a young girl forced to wait for care at Perth Children's Hospital.

Seven-year-old Aishwarya Aswath spent two hours waiting in the emergency department after presenting with a fever and being triaged in the second-least urgent category.

Aishwarya's parents had pleaded for her to be assessed by doctors after her eyes became cloudy and hands turned cold.

She died soon after she was finally seen.

It has since emerged four emergency doctors were off sick that night.

Nurses raised concerns about understaffing months earlier and the government has been slammed for failing to act on warnings from the sector.

Health Minister Roger Cook concedes doctors and nurses are being pushed to breaking point by long hours and high-stress situations.

"We understand it's tough out there at the moment in our hospitals," Mr Cook told reporters on Thursday.

"We understand staff are working incredibly hard on behalf of their patients and we want to do more, to make sure they have more resources and backing with extra colleagues."

Mr Cook said he would push for the state's $3.1 billion budget surplus to fund "sustainable" investment in the health system.

He said there had been a 10 per cent spike in emergency department presentations over the past six months.

The government plans to invest in more beds and has launched a recruitment drive.

According to WA Health, there have been 21 "SAC 1" events - clinical incidents attributable to healthcare provision, or lack thereof, that could have caused serious harm or death - at Perth Children's Hospital since January 1, 2020.

That includes one patient who died and seven others who suffered serious harm. The rest suffered moderate or minor harm.

Aishwarya's death is yet to be classed as such an event.

The Australian Nursing Federation has presented Mr Cook with a 10-point action plan for the hospital's emergency department.

It wants a ratio of one nurse for every three patients, a standalone resuscitation team and for a short-stay surgical unit to stay open 24/7 on weekends.

The union is also calling for double the number of staff development nurses, quicker recruitment and a public strategy for managing beds during surge times.

Aishwarya's death is being investigated by the Child and Adolescent Health Service and has also been referred to the coroner.

Mr Cook has faced pressure over record levels of ambulance ramping and treatment delays across Perth hospitals.

He said he was energised by an "exciting time" for the health system - a statement criticised by Liberal health spokesperson Libby Mettam.

"It is not exciting for the staff who have to deal with it every day, for the patients who are on never ending waitlists, for parents whose children are ill or for the West Australian public watching this crisis unfold," she said.

Australian Associated Press