An inquiry into the death of a seven-year-old girl at a Perth hospital will examine whether cultural bias or language barriers led to her parents’ pleas for help being ignored.
Seven-year-old Aiswarya Aswath died at Perth Children’s Hospital last Saturday, after she was made to wait two hours to see a doctor.
WA Child and Adolescent Health Services (CAHS), which manages the hospital, is conducting a review of the incident and said it will examine whether the family’s cultural background influenced the care they received.
“All aspects and factors related to a clinical incident will be reviewed, including the cultural and linguistic needs of the family and whether these were related to the clinical incident,” Chief Executive Dr Simon Wood said.
A team of medical professionals from within CAHS is conducting the review into Aiswarya’s death.
“Investigations for serious clinical incidents are conducted by a team of staff at the Child and Adolescent Health Service (CAHS) with training or experience in the Root Cause Analysis (RCA) methodology,” Dr Wood said.
Aiswarya’s parents, Aswath and Praseetha Sasidharan, reportedly pleaded with hospital staff for attention as the girl’s condition deteriorated. When a doctor finally saw Aiswarya, she reportedly died within 15 minutes.
In response to questions from SBS News, a CAHS spokesperson would not confirm whether the department plans to interview Aiswarya’s parents as part of its investigation.
A spokesperson for the family says the parents have not yet been asked to provide a statement.
The CAHS inquiry is expected to take at least 28 days before its completed.
It is one of two inquiries currently underway to investigate the circumstances of the seven-year-old’s death.
A coronial inquest has also begun, with a unit from WA Police investigating on behalf of the state coroner.
However, no timeline has been set for when an inquest will be held, a process that could take months or years.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, the WA Premier Mark McGowan and Health Minister Roger Cook defended the CAHS inquiry.
“We are liaising with the family, we will continue to keep them updated on the progress of the inquiry and at the end of the inquiry, the family will be advised into what it finds,” Mr McGowan said.
Since Aiswarya’s death a week ago, the WA Government has faced a torrent of criticism for underfunding and mismanaging the state’s hospitals.
The Government insists the health system is not in crisis, but is being tested by a surge in demand stemming largely from COVID-19.
However, the Ethnic Communities Council of WA says any inquiry must investigate whether the family’s pleas for help were ignored because of their cultural background.
Aiswarya arrived with her parents at the PCH emergency department around 5.30 pm last Saturday. She was seen by a triage nurse and allocated a score of ‘4’, making her a low priority patient.
“When they arrived at the hospital on Saturday, they went to the nurses’ area on five occasions to indicate that their daughter was deteriorating. On each of those occasions, they were told that a doctor would come and see them,” ECCWA President Suresh Rajan says.
“These people are not the complaining type, they’ve accepted that a doctor will come out to see them and they’ve sat back down again.
“They were persistent, but they were begging and pleading, they weren’t demanding. They had their hands clasped together and they were pleading and begging that a doctor should come and look at their daughter.”
Mr Rajan says the family would have accepted the assurances of hospital staff in good faith, even as their daughter’s hands turned cold and her eyes cloudy before she died.
He says the CAHS review will not be able to investigate whether cultural or language barriers played a role in the care Aiswarya received if it doesn’t engage someone with the expertise to lead those inquiries.
“Unless they have someone who is conversant in the culture of the Malayalam community and cultural bias within institutions in Australia…its merely window dressing.”
Mr Rajan said the WA Government also needs to support a culturally appropriate liaison officer to assist the family through the complex medical and legal processes.
“There should be no conversations between the government and the family without the presence of an advocate at all times. We need to be sure that their rights are protected,” he said.
“When the conversations are being initiated by the department or government agency, they must offer the assistance of an advocate that the family has chosen. It has to be driven by them and treated with the needs of the family uppermost.
“We need to ensure that they are understanding exactly what is going on, and that they are not walking away with false conceptions of what people are able to achieve for them or are trying to achieve for them.”