An emergency involving their young daughter has given an Avalon couple a frightening insight into the loss of local public health services.
Actor Chris Sadrinna and screenwriter Mahalia Rimmer are determined to fight for the restoration of services at Mona Vale Hospital (MVH) after their two-year-old daughter Mila was sent home from Northern Beaches Hospital (NBH) undiagnosed despite presenting with a very high temperature.
Later that week, Mila spent three days on intravenous antibiotics at Royal North Shore Hospital (RNS) to treat a urinary tract infection that had spread to her kidneys.
Chris and Mahalia had a very different experience with publicly operated MVH when their son Asher, 5, was operated on for an inguinal hernia shortly before MVH services and staff were transferred to Healthscope’s NBH in November.
“It was all so fast and efficient and smooth sailing from the moment we realised there was a problem until he was rushed into surgery,” Mahalia said. “We were dealt with very well.”
On a Monday in December, with MVH now closed, Chris called an ambulance to take a feverish Mila to NBH.
Chris said an NBH doctor told him Mila probably had a stomach bug and there was no need for blood or urine tests which would be “too traumatic” for her.
Mila was sent home after double doses of Panadol and Nurofen brought her temperature down.
Two mornings later, as Chris changed Mila’s nappy he noticed her lips were turning black and her body blue and she was “slightly cross-eyed”. He quickly got Mila and Asher into the car where Mila passed out.
Chris drove six kilometres to the nearest facility, Mona Vale, now branded an “Urgent Care Centre” but was turned away.
“They said sorry, we can’t help you, we don’t have the facilities and can’t take blood,” Chris said.
However, MVH staff called an ambulance. It drove Mila to Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick because Chris refused to allow them to return her to NBH.
A loss of trust
Sydney Children’s Hospital tests showed a high white cell count in Mila’s urine and very high CRP level in her blood. Her heart rate reached 170.
The hospital administered antibiotics but had no free beds, so Chris and Mahalia drove Mila to RNS where she spent the next five days before being discharged.
Mahalia says if NBH had tested and diagnosed Mila when she first presented, her infection might have been successfully treated with an oral course of antibiotics – thus avoiding an IV and a hospital stay.
“Maybe they (NBH) were busy but due diligence wasn’t done,” she says.
Mahalia says she doesn’t know what they will do if one of the kids needs hospital treatment again.
“We don’t know when we will get increased services at MVH and what level they will be at.
“Do I risk the (22 kilometres) drive to NBH or do I go (6 kilometres) to MVH and risk having to wait for an ambulance if they can’t do anything?
“That’s a really hard call to make if you’ve got a small child.
“With Mila, it initially wasn’t a life-in-the-balance emergency but it did escalate to that – or what felt like that – very quickly.
“As soon as you’re faced with a challenge like that suddenly, the whole world begins to unravel before your eyes.
“If that can happen here, what’s happening in regional and remote areas of Australia?”
NSWNMA campaign justified
Mahalia says losing two public hospitals – Mona Vale and Manly – and getting a private hospital in return is “totally and utterly crazy”.
“It’s not fair on the community and staff who have had their lives and careers affected for the sake of making something private and making a buck.”
Chris describes Mila’s hospital experience as a “debacle”.
“I also have two teenage daughters from a previous relationship and I’ve been through hospitals a lot with kids. I’ve always been really well looked after.
“We’ve lost Mona Vale, we’ve lost Manly, we’ve been given a substandard hospital as a replacement that’s not even a proper 100-per-cent public hospital.
“We’ve lost faith in the only hospital we’ve been given … even GPs are suggesting you don’t go to that hospital.”
Chris says the NSWNMA campaign against privatisation of NBH has proven to be “absolutely justified in retrospect.”
“I don’t think privately-run hospitals should be running an emergency department when things are based on money.
“The government needs to be accountable. It can’t be palmed off on to a private company that isn’t accountable or doesn’t want to be accountable.”
Following Mila’s hospitalisation, Premier Gladys Berejiklian told Channel 10 News: “I think the people of northern beaches are served extremely well.”
But Chris Sadrinna asks, “If you can’t be accountable for problems and mistakes then how do they get fixed?”