ACT News

Toilet miscarriage among health complaints in Human Rights Report

A woman miscarried in an emergency department toilet without help from "seemingly available" staff amid claims she waited long periods for treatment that never eventuated, a human rights commission report reveals.

The allegations were revealed in the 2013-14 annual report of the ACT Human Rights Commission which includes the Health Services Commissioner. 

The report said the woman also complained of inadequate care during three visits to an ED and public hospital antenatal clinic. The hospital was not named in the report. 

"The provider responded to the complainant by acknowledging systems failures and ensuring that improvements were being made," the report said. 

Health Services Commissioner Mary Durkin was satisfied the matter was adequately dealt with, but she launched a broader systemic investigation into the delivery of antenatal services in the ACT. 

"This is an issue that happens in a lot of jurisdictions around the country," she said. 

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She said ACT Health had opened an early pregnancy assessment unit. 

"Now people who are experiencing problems in early pregnancy can be  referred directly by their GPs to the unit without having to go through ED ... so they can go straight to the unit where people can get information around miscarriage and what to expect," she said. 

"It's been a good outcome that there's now something better available and my understanding also is that there's been better work done in ED about miscarriages and triaging."

ACT Health director-general Peggy Brown could not comment on the case but said there was a robust complaints management process to deal with concerns about "any aspect of care provided in any of our health care facilities". 

"All complaints brought to the attention of ACT Health are thoroughly investigated to identify possible system issues and in some very rare cases, issues that relate to the performance of individual practitioners," Dr Brown said.  

She said all complaints were taken very seriously to ensure any issues were managed and dealt with as quickly and appropriately as possible.

Dr Brown said the Early Pregnancy Assessment Unit, established in October, was designed to treat women who presented with early pregnancy-related problems. 

"Any instance of miscarriage is unfortunate and distressing to the individuals involved and I offer my deepest sympathies to the family in this case study," she said.

"Unfortunately, early pregnancy can be a risky time for women, as up to one in every four pregnancies ends in miscarriage, despite the best intervention. It is important that during these times, we offer women the most appropriate environment for their miscarriage to occur."

There was also a case in 2010 where a Fadden woman miscarried in an emergency department toilet five days after Canberra Hospital staff assured her she had already lost the baby. 

Opposition leader Jeremy Hanson said the latest allegations were "truly horrific" and came on the back of reports a Canberra Hospital patient was left in his urine-soaked bed after a nurse said she was too busy to help him and claims by Canberra Liberals assembly member Nicole Lawder about her mother-in-law receiving bad treatment at the hospital. 

"Sadly this is a reflection both of a large number of complaints about the hospital that I'm receiving in my office as well as warnings from senior health officials that the hospital is so full that it's unsafe," he said. 

The report, tabled in the Legislative Assembly this week, revealed complaints received by the Health Services Commissioner hit a record high last financial year, increasing 16 per cent from 355 in 2012-13 to 413 in 2013-14. 

Ms Durkin said she was not sure of the reason for the rise.

"It could be that the whole implementation of the national scheme for registration for professionals has highlighted the ability for people to go and get their concerns addressed," she said. 

"It doesn't necessarily mean because there's an increase in complaints that the system is any worse."

Of 269 health complaints lodged directed with the Commissioner, 104 related to the Health directorate and about 40 per cent were about Canberra Hospital. About 21 per cent of those complaints were about Justice Health. 

Dr Brown said of the feedback received about the hospital last year, 70 per cent was positive.

"While there are always areas for improvement, the overwhelming majority of our feedback is positive," she said.