Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021

Waitematā DHB makes ‘instant’ changes to ED policy after mum, baby refused treatment

A hospital has apologised for telling a West Auckland mum whose baby was suffering a brain injury that she faced a 10-hour wait to see a doctor.

And since Alana Vazey spoke to the Herald about her frightening experience at Waitākere Hospital this week, the Waitematā DHB says it has made “instant changes” ensuring people are triaged correctly upon entry.

Vazey was left desperate and angry after being turned away from the hospital’s emergency department on Wednesday which ultimately saw her have to take her 5-month-old to Starship Hospital, which diagnosed her with a small brain bleed and concussion.

The mother-of-four spoke out in the hope that nobody else has to go through the same experience, which she said left many others in the queue shocked at what was unfolding.

Vazey said her baby had fallen about two metres out of her cot and on to her head while at daycare, so she was rushed to the ED, arriving at about 2.30pm to a long queue.

“She was very sleepy, so I took her directly to Waitakere Hospital. At the door was a security guard who was basically triaging patients.

“There was a line out the front door of emergency and in that line were some very elderly people … also a new mum.”

Vazey made her way through the queue – explaining what had happened to her daughter to each person, who then let her pass – which eventually let her get to the front of the line.

She told what happened to the security guard who then spoke to a healthcare assistantworking inside.

“Then the security guard said to me ‘you need to get into the back of the line’.

“I said ‘can’t you get the nurse to do her [observations] or something out here?’, and she said ‘get in the line like everybody else’.”

After being told it was an approximate 10-hour wait to see somebody, Vazey gave up and started walking back to her car when her daughter started vomiting.

“I went back, and [security guard] was talking to somebody else, and I said ‘my daughter’s just started vomiting’.

“And she said ‘no, get back in the line, everyone else has to wait. It’s a 10-hour wait for a doctor and you’ll be waiting 10 hours.”

Vazey said she then started getting “rarked up” by the refusal and told the security guard to get someone because her daughter’s condition had worsened.

“I said ‘this is ridiculous … what do I do, ring an ambulance?”

She didn’t, as she was already at the hospital, but continued to plead with the security guard.

“My daughter started going downhill and had changed from when we first arrived, within minutes.”

Instead, she rushed her baby to her GP who was nearby, and saw them “instantly”.

After assessing her, he sent her straight off to Starship urging that she sees a specialist.

“I went to Starship and they were great and did everything.”

It was then they diagnosed her daughter with a concussion and small brain bleed.

“Okay, it’s a small bleed but it could have been so much worse.

“What happens from the moment that I’ve gone to the hospital to get help, on my own, to my daughter having a seizure in the back of the car or vomiting or unresponsive and I’m trying to go to a different hospital because I got turned away?”

Vazey accepted there were wait times at hospitals, but she wanted medical professionals to triage patients – not unqualified security guards.

“You should have a triage nurse, like you do everywhere else when you walk into a hospital, saying who can go in the line and who needs to be seen.

“Not a security guard.”

Asked whether babies or young children with head injuries are given priority, Waitematā DHB executive director hospital Services Mark Shepherd said the policy is that they should, and at a lower Covid-19 alert level they would be able to walk inside to the triage desk, where a nurse is stationed.

“Unfortunately, current Covid-19 safety precautions, including physical-distancing, mean only a small number of people can be in the ED waiting room – this is further impacted by the need for a separate ED area, for people who present with Covid-like symptoms … other patients are asked to wait outside the entrance for the triage nurse.”

Shepherd said neither Vazey nor her baby were seen by a “medically trained member of staff”, instead only a security and health care assistant, and that was “unacceptable”.

“With both security and the HCA wearing scrubs and PPE, we acknowledge that this would have been frustrating and confusing, and that Alana and her baby’s care were not handled appropriately.

“We want Alana, other parents and whānau to know that we are taking this matter extremely seriously.

“To make sure that this experience is not repeated, we have immediately changed our
front-of-house process to ensure young children and babies are able to bypass the outdoor queue, and be urgently seen inside the ED, by a triage nurse.”

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