Sunday, November 09, 2008

Killer delays from government ambulance service in Victoria, Australia

Victoria's ambulance service needs a major overhaul, especially when it comes to treating children with asthma, the grieving father of a young footballer said yesterday. And paramedics are frustrated that they are "always playing catch-up" with their huge workload and lack of resources, an inquest was told.

Peter Hindhaugh, whose son Jake died after suffering an asthma attack and cardiac arrest, said long delays, a better priority system and better response times needed to be addressed in a system that was already overcrowded.

The Coroner's Court heard that had an ambulance arrived within seven to eight minutes of Jake's respiratory or cardiac arrest on April 15 last year the outcome may have been different. Instead it took an ambulance 24 minutes to arrive after his parents made an emergency call to 000. Jake, 11, suffered an asthma attack 30 minutes after playing his 50th match with the Yarra Glen Junior Football Club -- a day after ambulances treated him for two other attacks. Paramedics arrived 18 minutes late on one of those occasions. He had brain damage by the time he was revived by paramedics and four days later his life support was switched off.

Coroner Jane Hendtlass yesterday said Jake's death provided a very valuable case study of what Ambulance Victoria needed to think about. The inquest heard that the Metropolitan Ambulance Service did not review Jake's case after his death because the MAS did not review asthma cases. Operations quality improvement boss Kevin Masci said the MAS did not find out about the outcome of Jake's case until it was contacted by the Coroner's Office about the inquest. "In our case we at least got Jake to hospital alive but we don't know what happened three to four days later," he said. "Unless we get a complaint or a physician rings up we don't know." Mr Masci said the delay in dispatching an ambulance in rural areas or the outer suburbs was frustrating because of the lack of resources.

Outside court Mr Hindhaugh said Jake's death was a clear example the system was beyond its limits and needed immediate intervention. He and his wife, Cheryl, also want recommendations for teachers and the parents of asthmatic children to be trained to deal with attacks.


A government mental health system that is as crazy as its inmates

Prisoner with murder plan released from Queensland jail, kills man days later

A dangerous mentally ill prisoner killed a man eight days after leaving jail after warning he would do so two months before his release. An under-resourced and under-staffed Queensland prison Mental Health service cleared his release despite him telling his prison psychiatrist that he wanted to "achieve" killing a man.

A coronial inquest into the fatal bashing of John Simpson, 56, has exposed a struggling system which has no legal means of keeping dangerous prisoners behind bars. It was told this week neither Dr William Kingswell, former director of the central and southern zones Forensic Mental Health Services and the man's psychiatrist at the time, nor other officials who were told of the threat, informed the man's mother or the private psychiatrist who would care for him on his release.

The inquest, which will continue into the new year, was also told by current Prison Mental Health Services director Dr Edward Heffernan that the agency was "50 per cent underfunded". It had 3.5 full-time clinical staff to treat about 1000 prisoners with mental illness in eight state jails.

Dr Kingswell said there were "significant barriers to information sharing (about mentally ill prisoners) that persisted" between Corrective Services, the Queensland Health-linked Prison Mental Health Services and Disability Services Queensland. Dr Kingswell, who was not made aware of notes taken by Corrective Services and DSQ staff that showed his client was dysfunctional and experiencing delusions, also accused DSQ of "abandoning" its clients if they were jailed. He said offenders with intellectual disabilities and developmental disorders needed to be diverted from jail in the way those with mental illness were.

Mr Simpson, whose daughter called for the coronial inquiry, was slain on June 3, 2005, in the Brisbane Botanic Gardens, where he had fallen asleep. In her letter to the State Coroner last year, his daughter wrote that the public's safety had been jeopardised "because it appears that the (prison) system does not have a safety net for violent, mentally ill people who have been released".

Her father's 33-year-old killer had been released from the Maryborough Correction Centre on May 26, 2005, after serving three years for attacking a Sunshine Coast taxi driver with scissors and a hammer in 2002. Last September he was found by Mental Health Court Justice Anthe Philippides to be unfit to stand trial for the murder and ordered to be held at The Park high security mental health facility west of Brisbane, where he continues to be treated. The inquest heard the man, who had a developmental disability from birth, had over the years been diagnosed with conditions ranging from Asperger's Syndrome to schizophrenia. His mother had asked that her son be cared for in a high security psychiatric facility after his release.

Dr Kingswell said he knew the man was dangerous but there was no legal means to detain him once he had served his time. He could have arranged community-based mental health care for the man but his mother had said she had no faith in the service. A raft of lawyers packed Court 4 at the Brisbane Magistrate's Court complex every day this week for the inquest.


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