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'Substantial stuff-up': Premier orders review after 92-year-old left waiting outside hospital


An investigation is underway into why an elderly woman and other patients were left to wait in the cold outside the Lyell McEwin Hospital’s emergency department.

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The woman’s son fought back tears this morning as he described how his mother – taken to the hospital’s emergency department last night after a fall – sat on her walker outside for two hours, clad in her dressing gown and without being offered a blanket or wheelchair before she was eventually admitted.

“92-years-old, she was uncovered, I couldn’t believe how cold it was,” Craig Csongrady told InDaily.

“I looked around, I saw mums holding babies, all going through the same thing…  elderly people, people with no shoes, people with shorts on, walking into this not thinking they would be outside.

“I said, ‘Where am I’?

“Who is in charge of the logistics side of this? This is where people come in who need help, this is the people who can’t get the ambulances. I saw the ramping, I saw people getting tended to. There were six ambulances there with people inside with some really traumatic things going on.”

Csongrady exposed the situation on Facebook last night, commenting on a Mother’s Day post by Premier Peter Malinauskas, lamenting the plight of his mother and other patients and posting photographs.

“This is Maureen Wortley, a 92 year old Mother, Grandmother and Great Grandmother,” Csongrady wrote.

92-year-old Maureen Wortley waiting outside the Lyell McEwin Hospital last night in the cold. Photo: supplied by family

“Tonight she rang for an ambulance as she’s had a fall only to be told that there are no ambulances. Her daughter, son in-law and friend who found Maureen on the floor had to drive her to the Lyell McEwin in their small car, as requested by Ambulance (head office).

“This photo was sent to me just now outside the hospital under a carport / triage at 12 degrees celsius as there is no room inside to wait for medical help. This is the real pandemic, this is another total bureaucratic failure of the system and there is zero excuse! Shameful! Ps. And you’d think this woman would at least be offered a wheelchair and blanket? No! Just sit in your walker!”

Patients waiting outside the Lyell McEwin Hospital last night. Photo: supplied

Consgrady told InDaily he decided to speak out because “it seems to be a systemic thing” and he hopes it prompts urgent change.

“I spoke to the one of the head doctors at the Lyell McEwin (this morning) and she told me that they would get onto this and can’t work out why it happened but I think it’s been happening for quite a while,” he said.

Premier Peter Malinauskas this morning said he had ordered an urgent investigation into the situation.

“This is not consistent with the standard that we expect in a first world country, plain and simple – it’s not good enough,” he told ABC Radio Adelaide.

“What I’ve been able to establish is that at the Lyell McEwin Hospital there is an arrangement where people have to perform a rapid antigen test that comes back negative before they’re allowed inside into the ED, which means into the warmth and what have you.

“Normally that’s a process that I understand takes minutes but for whatever reason in this instance something has gone horrifically wrong for Ms Wortley and her family and my thoughts are with them.

“It was cold last night… certainly for someone in her 90s and clearly in discomfort. My sympathies go out with that family and I just want them to know that we are doing everything we can.”

But the woman’s family said she received a negative COVID test early on in her wait and was still made to wait outside, with subsequent staff coming out to attempt to do further COVID tests, seemingly unaware she had already been tested.

Malinauskas said: “It sounds as though we’ve got a substantial stuff-up where the rapid antigen test was undertaken but for whatever reason the negative result wasn’t passed on and then we had a culmination of errors here that are a function of a system under a lot of pressure.”

“That’s not an excuse but people make mistakes and clearly a substantial one has happened here and we will pursue it and look into it thoroughly,” he said.

“My thoughts are with Ms Wortley at the Lyell Mc now and I do hope she is well. She was clearly in discomfort before she arrived at the hospital and the idea is that you get better rather than worse outside.”

Maureen Wortley is the aunt of Labor MLC Russell Wortley, who this morning told InDaily: “Obviously the whole procedure needs to be looked at at the Lyell McEwin.”

“We’re all upset,” he said.

“Nobody likes seeing this happen to anybody let alone someone who’s in the family.

“I know the (Health) Minister and Premier are aware of the situation. It’s being investigated and I’m sure there will be be a solution to ensure this won’t happen again.”

The doctors’ union said the hospital was overrun last night, with the ED on Code White – “well above capacity” – from 2pm yesterday to 2am this morning.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that patients shouldn’t be left out in the cold – it’s just not acceptable,” SA Salaried Medical Officers Association chief industrial officer Bernadette Mulholland told InDaily.

“It would have just been insufficiency of space. If you look at their emergency department it is just far too small for the number of patients that come to that emergency department.

“They receive a lot of walk-ins. It’s just clearly insufficiency of space and this is the administration’s answer to trying to address some of those issues which is woefully falling short.”

Opposition Leader David Speirs this morning told reporters the situation was “extremely disappointing”.

“The Labor Party and of course the ambulance union have made very lofty statements around the solutions for ramping and almost pitched this idea that if there was a change of government on the 19th of March that ramping would immediately disappear,” he said.

“We’ve got to hold the Malinauskas Labor Government to account on these matters.

“We are very concerned for the welfare of patients. It’s not even the winter flu season yet. We know that hospitalisations soar in June, July and August and there are clearly very significant problems here.”

Dr Penny Conor, divisional director of critical care in the Northern Adelaide Local Health Network, apologised to Maureen Wortley and her family and said processes would be changed so that future patients didn’t have to endure the same experience.

However, she rejected the Premier’s description of the situation as a “substantial stuff-up”, while admitting “we could have done better”.

“We’ve had the opportunity to review what happened last night with this patient and there does seem there was a delay,” Conor told reporters this afternoon.

“There were a couple of reasons for the delay and I… apologise unreservedly to the family.

“There was a bit of miscommunication between a couple of emergency staff in the triage space and the staff who do the RAT tests.

“I probably wouldn’t describe it as a substantial stuff-up but yes we could have done better.”

Conor said that since the onset of COVID, the hospital had set up an “external COVID screening tent… to try and prevent patients with COVID sitting next to somebody who might not have COVID and causing an infection within our department”.

“We’ve done it this way at Lyell McEwin because the northern part of Adelaide is one of the lowest-vaxxed communities in the state and we feel very strongly that we need to protect and look after the vulnerable in the community as much as we can,” she said.

“That’s why we have the process outside. In a perfect world the process should take about 20 minutes. And anyone who has urgent medical need is taken straight into the department however if the need is not that urgent they have that external RAT test… and that process should take about 20 minutes.”

Conor said to improve the system for patients going forward, the triage and rapid antigen testing processes would be moved inside, with all patients and their families provided N95 masks, rather than being required to wear just surgical masks.

“We will aim to move our triage practices inside and not do it externally because… we note that after hours it can get cold which is one of the main concerns from the family last night,” she said.

“So only in times of surge or overcapacity will we need to move outside. And in addition to that we are going to put another nursing resource to try and support this service and we’re going to make the amenities outside better by having improved seating and heating.

“With the addition of the N95 masks for all patients and their relatives, we should be able to change the process today.”

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