Overcrowded ED leaves child waiting hours for surgery, appendix bursts

Parents of a seven-year-old girl have spoken about the horror of their daughter’s appendix bursting as she waited more than eight hours for surgery.

A young girl’s parents have spoken out about the horror of their seven-year-old’s appendix bursting while she waited more than eight hours for surgery at an Adelaide children’s hospital.

Annabelle and David Oates told their daughter Audrey’s story on Monday with the hope it would prevent other families enduring similar experiences.

Audrey was suffering nausea and hip pain on March 1 and was taken to the Women’s and Children’s Hospital (WCH) emergency department about 3pm that day.

The child had been diagnosed with acute appendicitis by a GP about an hour earlier.

She should have been seen within 10 minutes and operated on within an hour, according to the couple.

Mr and Mrs Oates said the hospital was extremely overcrowded and their daughter needed to wait three hours to be examined by a nurse who confirmed the diagnosis at about 6pm.

The family had to wait a further three hours to see a doctor who again confirmed she had appendicitis.

Recalling the moment they suspected Audrey’s appendix burst — which was at about 10pm — they said Audrey’s condition was visibly “going downhill”.

“She was lying on the bed and she started screaming and writhing in pain, curled up in a ball,” Mr Oates told reporters.

“We knew she was in so much pain and we couldn’t do anything,” his wife said.

“I was just holding onto Audrey’s hand and just trying to get her through it, while David searched for staff.”

Her surgery started at 11.30pm, but her appendix had already ruptured.

She remained hospitalised for about nine days and needed a pelvic drain, a bladder catheter and an intravenous drip after the operation.

Professor Warren Jones from the WCH Alliance, who is a retired obstetrician and gynaecologist, said the incident was one of the worst cases of neglect of duty of care by a hospital he had seen in his 50 year career.

He said the ED was “recurrently overwhelmed” and on one incident operated at 220 per cent capacity with ambulances diverted to other hospitals.

“This is unacceptable,” Professor Jones said.

“It is dangerous to patients and distressing for staff. It cannot be allowed to continue.”

The WCH has launched an investigation into the case and apologised to the family for the delay.

The hospital’s medical services executive director James Rice said WCH had a “very strong system” in place for how children who presented to the ED were assessed.

“All children are assessed in terms of their presenting complaint and that’s prioritised and then assured they’re consistently seen with requirements of their condition,” Dr Rice said.

“We acknowledge there was a delay in seeing this child … It should not have occurred.

“As a parent of two children who have had abdominal pain, I can understand any parent concern and worry at the time that they only want the very best care, assessment and treatment, and that’s what we aim to provide at this hospital.”

Dr Rice said the ED had recently seen “quite extraordinary demands” when large numbers of patients presented.

Despite the surging presentation numbers, he said the hospital had systems and resources available to provide the best care to children.

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