A Queensland mum says regional hospitals should have all-hours access to medical imaging, after her daughter’s potentially life-threatening condition was misdiagnosed.
- A mother says her six-year-old’s appendicitis was mistaken for gastroenteritis by medical staff
- After being sent home, the girl’s appendix burst causing a large stomach abscess and scar tissue to form on her small bowel
- Member for Gympie Tony Perrett says ultrasounds need to be available to allow for timely and accurate diagnosis
Amy Russell said medical staff at the Gympie Hospital diagnosed her six-year-old daughter with gastroenteritis on Saturday, March 18, and they were sent home.
But her daughter, who she asked the ABC not to name, was actually suffering from severe appendicitis.
Ms Russell said emergency staff explained at the time that they had no access to an ultrasound machine on weekends.
A doctor instead advised her to take her daughter to the Sunshine Coast University Hospital (SCUH) — more than an hour’s drive away — if her condition worsened over the weekend.
As the days passed, her daughter remained lethargic and pale, so Ms Russell took her back to the Gympie Hospital during the week.
An ultrasound showed the child’s appendix had burst causing a large stomach abscess. Scar tissue was already forming on her small bowel.
“It could have been a routine day surgery but it turned into something much bigger — it can cause death,” Ms Russell said.
The little girl was immediately taken by ambulance to SCUH to have her appendix and the abscess removed.
Ms Russell said she had been told her daughter could suffer lifelong consequences because of the earlier misdiagnosis.
“Because she’s little, the surrounding organs were affected,” Ms Russell said.
‘Not in the clear yet’
Ms Russell said the experience had left her feeling vulnerable.
“Appendicitis is a fairly routine childhood illness, there should be an easy way of diagnosing it,” she said.
She said her daughter’s ordeal ended up being worse than it needed to be because of the misdiagnosis.
“She needed to be in hospital on IV antibiotics, antibiotics upon release and she had the surgical drain afterwards and that’s a lot for a little girl,” she said.
She said that more than two weeks on from surgery, the six-year-old’s energy remained low, but she was grateful the outcome wasn’t worse.
“I’m watching her sleep just to make sure she’s still breathing,” she said.
“She’s not in the clear yet.”
Access for the region
The Gympie region is home to more than 53,000 people and its hospital is the closest for many by at least 90 minutes.
Member for Gympie Tony Perrett said residents in a town the size of Gympie should have access to timely health care.
“If that emergency care is needed locally, then we should have basic services at the very least and imaging is one of those,” Mr Perrett said.
“The fact that they were let down by the health system is something that’s completely unacceptable.”
Mr Perrett contacted Queensland Health Minister Yvette D’ath about the matter but said she was yet to respond to his letter.
A Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service spokesperson has confirmed that ultrasounds are not available at the Gympie Hospital on weekends.
The spokesperson said ultrasounds could be conducted after business hours at the hospital during the week if deemed necessary, or patients could be transported for treatment.
“It is not uncommon for patients to access after-hours diagnostic medical imaging at the Sunshine Coast University Hospital,” they said.
Ms Russell said she did not blame the Gympie medical staff who treated her daughter, but said the hospital should be better equipped to treat patients.
The spokesperson for the health service said due to patient confidentiality they could not discuss whether or not the incident was being investigated by the hospital.