Meningitis baby misdiagnosed

THE mother of a baby boy with meningococcal disease, who was misdiagnosed twice in two days at John Hunter Hospital as having gastro, has slammed claims the emergency department is adequately staffed.

She said her 10-month-old boy, Sunny, pictured, was lucky to be alive after      being sent home,  and then  waiting  almost six hours to see a doctor when he returned to  hospital.

She decided to speak out about her  ordeal after reading comments in the Newcastle Herald last week by hospital administration that the department had enough staff. 

The Newcastle woman called on NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner to  review staffing levels at the hospital, saying doctors and nurses were “run off their feet”.

“It was just so busy and after waiting hours in a cubicle, I eventually took matters into my own hands and went looking for a doctor,” the mother said. “This is not an attack on the staff as they are obviously doing their best to cope, but it’s very clear to me that there needs to be more of them.” 

Sunny was taken to the emergency department about 5.15am on January 27 suffering diarrhoea, vomiting and a rash. He was discharged two hours later with instructions to return if his condition deteriorated. 

They returned about 1am the next day and the boy was not seen by a doctor until 6.30am. 

Opposition Health spokesman Andrew McDonald described the wait yesterday as “completely unacceptable”.

“The maximum wait for a baby is two hours and two hours is unacceptable, he should have been seen in 30 minutes after his mother took him back,” he said.

Sunny was eventually admitted to John Hunter Children’s Hospital, with his mother told he had gastro.

The baby was struggling to open his eyes, was limp and had a “blank expression on his face”.  A short time later, a  nurse raised concerns about Sunny’s condition and asked a doctor  to take a look at him. The doctor diagnosed a bulging fontanel and said it could be a case of meningitis.

A lumber puncture confirmed Sunny had meningitis meningococcal and his mother was told the next 24 hours would be critical.

“They didn’t know if he was going to make it or not, the whole experience was absolutely terrifying,” she said.

“I just kept thinking that he couldn’t speak for himself and I should have demanded that he was seen earlier in the emergency department, but it was so busy in there, there were babies crying everywhere.”

The Herald reported last week that John Hunter’s emergency department  treated 3641 more patients last financial year, almost an extra 10 a day, when compared to Liverpool Hospital.

This was done with 20 fewer full-time equivalent nurses and three, or almost 40per cent, fewer full-time equivalent advanced trainee doctors.

Hospital general manager Michael Symonds said the emergency department was adequately staffed.

After reading Mr Symonds’ comments, Sunny’s mother said she had no choice but to speak out.

 “It was made clear to me that it was extremely busy at the time and there were staffing issues. So to read in the paper claims there were not, made me extremely angry.”

Mr Symonds apologised to the family yesterday, but said there was a “full complement of clinical staff” on at the time.

“Sunny’s condition was monitored at regular intervals by the emergency department team and appeared to be stable,” he said.

Mrs Skinner also declined to request a review of the emergency department’s staffing levels.

For further information www.meningococcal.org

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