Seven hours for a bandaid

Photo Placeby CARMELO AMALFI

A MENTALLY ill woman admitted to Fremantle hospital after slashing her wrists over Christmas waited seven hours for treatment, only to be given bandaids.

Parents Ian and Cathy Edwards say their daughter Hannah, 30, waited on a portable bed stretcher until 3.30am just days before WA mental health minister Helen Morton visited their home following their son Anthony’s suicide in March last year.

It was their first Christmas without Anthony, 26, their “best mate” (Fremantle Herald, October 6, 2012) whose death at Johnston Court flats in Fremantle the day after his discharge from Alma Street continues to disturb the family. Hannah also suffers mental illness.

“She still has the strips,” Mr Edwards told the Herald as he was parking to pick up Hannah at the Marian psychiatric hospital in Subiaco on Thursday after she’d again cut herself.

He says the mental health system does not reflect Ms Morton’s intentions to improve it, with a new Act to be introduced this year.

“I think her intentions are good, but I’m still sitting on the fence with her,” he says, adding neither the minister nor her minders offered condolences during the two-hour meeting.

“We didn’t speak a lot about Anthony. Hannah was there and we pointed out the differences between the private and public systems.

“Anthony was at Alma Street where monitoring of patients after they have been given medication differs greatly from the private system Hannah is in.”

Ms Morton says her meeting with the family was private but, “it went well and followed previous conversations with Mr Edwards over the past three to four months”.

“I am grateful to the family for the personal and sensitive discussion at their home in the midst of Christmas preparations and minding grandchildren,” she told the Herald.

A hospital spokesman says Fremantle’s emergency department was very busy over Christmas, saying Hannah was receiving medical attention if she was on a stretcher.

The spokesman says the Edwards could have instead presented to Alma Street’s triage service, which was open 8am to 8pm. The Edwards had taken Hannah to Fremantle after the triage service had closed. A hospital-based GP service had closed last year after losing the hospital’s support.

“Hannah waited for seven hours in emergency with an open wound,” Mr Edwards says.

“Eventually a doctor came, then a registrar who tossed up whether she needed stitches or a bandage.

“Once they decided on bandages, they went off and returned after some time and I asked them why they had taken so long.

“Apparently, they couldn’t find the bandages.”

Mr Edwards raised the incident at the meeting with Ms Morton, who spoke about how the process of admissions and discharges was being tightened.

He says emergency departments should set up different sections for mental health patients to avoid long waiting times, and for carers who can look after patients until a doctor arrives.

“They don’t have enough doctors and registrars otherwise it would not have taken seven hours for someone to see Hannah,” he says.

According to the WA health department’s ED activity table, the average waiting time for triage 4 patients on Wednesday morning, January 2, was 34 minutes—second only to Royal Perth Hospital where patients waited up to 64 minutes.

Forty-three patients were in Fremantle ED that day, nine of whom were waiting to be seen as at 10.30am.

Triage 1 includes the most urgent and triage 5 the least urgent. The average waiting time is calculated for patients assessed as triage 4, the most frequently allocated category.

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