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Health Bosses silent on Middlemore Patient Death Investigation

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Health officials are staying tight-lipped on an investigation into a patient who died after being turned away at Middlemore’s emergency department due to long wait times. Stephen Forbes reports. 

The former chairman of the now defunct Counties Manukau DHB says the responsibility for dealing with an investigation into a patient’s death at Middlemore Hospital last month is now in the hands of Health NZ.

The district health board ceased to exist on Friday under the Government’s new health reforms.

Former chairman Mark Gosche was approached for comment about the case at his Mt Wellington home on Monday.

When asked if the board needed to take responsibility for the patient’s death, which happened during his tenure, he said it would be something that will be looked at in the inquiry.

“I don’t have the authority to speak now because I’m not the chair. We don’t exist as a board any more and all of our responsibilities have shifted to Health NZ,” Gosche said. “But they are carrying out a thorough investigation.”

Gosche was asked if the public deserved to know more about the events leading up to the patient’s death.

“It will become clearer once the investigation has been concluded and that’s the whole point in doing the inquiry,” he said.

The patient first arrived at the emergency department at about 1am on June 15 with a severe headache. She was told it would likely be hours before she could be seen and left.

She returned to the hospital in an ambulance a few hours later after a “massive” subarachnoid haemorrhage and died the following day.

A doctor said the woman should have been given priority, because “headaches are always meant to be taken seriously”, despite the fact the emergency department was experiencing record admissions and long wait times for patients.

Gosche said the board received the investigation’s preliminary findings, which were presented by Counties Manukau Health’s acting chief executive Dr Pete Watson at its final meeting on Thursday.

He said it was the same brief statement which was given to the media last week.

“That’s all we got as a board. So there’s nothing more that I can add. All I know is what we were told and you were told in that statement.”

Last week Counties Manukau Health’s acting chief executive Dr Pete Watson said chief medical officer Dr Andrew Connolly was leading a review of the incident, which hadn’t yet been finalised.

“Our preliminary investigation has confirmed that at the time of the patient’s arrival at our emergency department was extremely busy and wait times for a consultation with a doctor were long.

“From time to time when waiting times are long patients may choose to leave our emergency department before they are seen, as occurred in this case. This patient had a catastrophic medical event a few hours later at home and returned to the hospital emergency department.

“Unfortunately, despite immediate medical assessment and appropriate treatment, her condition did not respond.”

Former Counties Manukau DHB deputy chair Tipa Mahuta, Katrina Bungard and Dianne Glenn all refused to comment on Monday and directed questions to Middlemore Hospital’s communications team.

Former board members Reece Autagavaia, Garry Boles, Colleen Brown and Paul Young were also approached for comment for this article.

Last week the DHB said it didn’t have a time schedule for the completion of the investigation.

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