Mother's death at Calvary Hospital referred to Coroners Court
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Mother's death at Calvary Hospital referred to Coroners Court

A Canberra woman who alleged the 2017 death of her 85-year-old mother was a result of systemic bullying at Calvary Hospital has referred the matter to the ACT Coroners Court.

Robyn's mother Gwen was admitted to the Bruce hospital in April last year suffering from an infected leg ulcer, but deteriorated during one weekend in May after contracting sepsis from one of the wards.

Robyn has referred the death of her mother Gwen to the ACT Coroners Court.

Robyn has referred the death of her mother Gwen to the ACT Coroners Court.

Photo: Karleen Minney

Despite the pleas of family members, regular doctors and specialists were not able to be called in on the weekend to treat Gwen.

Robyn, who did not want her surname published, said staff told her at the time that specialists weren't able to treat her due to a fear of intimidation and backlash from senior staff.

Following the incident, Gwen was transferred to an intensive care unit at Calvary and then discharged into a high-care nursing facility before she died on July 6, 2017.

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Almost a year on, the matter was referred to the Coroners Court in a letter dated July 1, seen by the Sunday Canberra Times.

In a statement to the family, a court spokesman said Coroner Beth Campbell would consider the request when she returns from leave in August.

"Unfortunately due to a conflict of interest, the chief Coroner cannot consider [the] request, which is why it will have to wait for Coroner Campbell's return to duty."

Robyn said she referred the case to the coroner to prevent the situation from happening to other patients.

"In order to prevent other patients suffering the cruel fate of my mother, and in order to prevent other families suffering the trauma of an earlier than necessary death of a loved one, I now respectfully request that the coroner conduct a hearing into this matter," she said in a letter to the coroner.

Gwen's condition deteriorated after contracting sepsis from one of the wards at Calvary.

Gwen's condition deteriorated after contracting sepsis from one of the wards at Calvary.

Photo: Jamila Toderas

An earlier investigation conducted by the ACT Health Services Commission found Calvary staff failed to call emergency medical teams to treat Gwen, despite her condition being serious enough to warrant an emergency response.

The investigation was told by Calvary staff that nurses were hesitant to contact emergency medical staff due to intimidation that took place during previous incidents.

"The nurse did not feel confident to call the [emergency team] as she had been made to feel foolish by the team in similar circumstances when she did," one nurse said.

A Calvary patient safety and quality manager said "there was a culture in some areas of Calvary Public Hospital of not making after-hours calls to medical staff due to retribution", according to transcripts of a meeting between Robyn's family and Calvary representatives.

It was due to these factors, Robyn alleges that contributed to her mother's death.

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"I have requested on several occasions that Calvary Public Hospital Bruce take direct action in relation to staff bullying," Robyn said in the letter.

"I have requested, in writing and verbally, that they conduct a compulsory program for all clinical and emergency medical staff in respectful staff communications, particularly in stressful situations."

Conciliation attempts between Calvary and Gwen's family in February were unsuccessful, with no agreement reached between the two parties

In a letter from Calvary chief executive Barbara Reid to Robyn on June 26 this year, seen by the Sunday Canberra Times, Ms Reid said process are in place to ensure respectful communication between staff.

"Calvary has staff induction, orientation and performance processes to support staff compliance with the organisation's values, including respectful communication," Ms Reid said.

"There is an expectation that Calvary staff provide respectful and appropriate care and communication with each and every person."

In a statement, a Calvary Hospital spomesman said the hospital is aware of the coronial referral.

"Calvary has no further information at this time but will fully cooperate with any inquiry that may be forthcoming," the spokesman said.

"In line with patient confidentiality and privacy legislation, Calvary cannot provide any further comment."

Andrew Brown is a journalist at the Sunday Canberra Times. Andrew has worked at the Canberra Times since 2016.