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Article: Whistleblower nurses wary of inquiry - 12 December 2003

By Debra Jopson

There had been "a whole lot more" patient deaths due to bad management at two south-western Sydney hospitals than the 19 investigated by the Health Care Complaints Commission, a leader of five whistleblower nurses said yesterday.

" In reality, we are talking hundreds of deaths and thousands of cases of people who've received gross negligence and gross mismanagement in their cases and who are just lucky to be alive today," said Nola Fraser, a former Campbelltown Hospital nurse whose complaints helped spark the investigation.

However, the inquiry into Campbelltown and Camden hospitals, which the NSW Government announced yesterday, would not uncover the extent "because the terms of reference are very limited," Ms Fraser said.

The 19 deaths were those reported by the five nurses, all of whom lost their public hospital jobs. Ms Fraser and Sheree Martin now work as beauty therapists. Yvonne Quinn, a former clinical nurse specialist with a masters' degree and 20 years' experience as an operating theatre nurse, sells medical supplies. Valerie Owen nurses at a private hospital. Vanessa Bragg is unemployed.

Omar Alexander, whose wife Dawn died in January 2001, eight days after childbirth, following a diagnosis at Campbelltown Hospital of Sydney flu when she had septicaemia, described the nurses as heroes.

The Health Minister, Morris Iemma, apologised to the nurses via a media conference yesterday and undertook to welcome them back into the health system. But the five whistleblowers, who have received no personal apology, nor job offers from NSW Health, said they wanted a bigger commitment to change.

Ms Martin said Campbelltown Hospital was unsafe for patients and she was sceptical about the investigation so far. "When you ask us if we have any faith in the Walker report, you have to understand that this has been 13 months of five nurses . . . following a plan where we approach our managers, our senior managers, our area managers.

" We're victimised and bullied. We go to our local member, Craig Knowles. We're victimised there . . . We've been to the Government, we've been to the Department of Health, we've been to the [commission], we've been to the union - and everyone's investigated the investigation of the investigation.

" This is just another investigation of the investigation."

A management clean-out was needed in the Macarthur health service, Ms Martin said. Management - not doctors and nurses - was to blame for poor practices.

Ms Fraser said she was "somewhat disappointed" in the Government's response because the commission was told of more cases and the processes set in train was not "going to change the care at the bedside".

Mrs Quinn said she felt "somewhat vindicated" by Mr Iemma's announcement.

" I was surprised . . . because in the past two years all we have encountered is cover-up and whitewash. I just hope that the service can be improved because senior management clearly didn't have a patient focus.

" Otherwise the loss of my career has been in vain."

 

[See the original article at http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/12/11/1071125596264.html]