Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2009 Week 13 Hansard (Wednesday, 11 November 2009) . . Page.. 4817 ..
Chief Health Officer does not know what is going on, or is it Ms Gallagher that does not know what is going on, when we have up to 80 people being tested for TB, resulting from a potential infection in the Canberra Hospital?
The question we need answered is: did procedures break down? Charles Guest seems to think yes but Katy Gallagher says no. I will again quote Dr Ellis:
It is quite obvious to me that ACT Health and Gallagher’s office are attempting to cover up what was a severe deviation from usual practice on the post-natal ward between the 28th August and September 3rd. This lack of adherence to routine protocol is the undeniable cause of the exposure of the most vulnerable cohort of the population to a very serious infectious disease. This should never have happened and if routine protocols had been followed by staff on the post natal ward the 4 babies whose lives are at risk of succumbing to this disease would otherwise be happy, healthy newborns needing nothing more than their mother’s breastmilk. As it stands the four babies are now taking two very powerful antibiotics that are not routinely prescribed. One of these antibiotics has toxic side effects, some of which are immeasurable in new borns.
I also have reports that the father of one of the other infants who was exposed to TB was not allowed to stay overnight in the shared ward; instead the father was forced to sleep in his car. This was despite the fact that they were transferred from Wagga Wagga, as I understand it, because the baby was very sick. So why is one father of a sick child forced to sleep in his car but another is permitted to stay in the shared ward? It just does not make sense. Either the policy is unclear or the policy was breached. It would appear that procedures did break down, although there are mixed messages from ACT Health officials. We need some clarity on this issue and the minister needs to establish very clearly if there were any breaches in hospital policy and procedures.
The next question is: are the procedures appropriate? I again quote Dr Ellis:
When a healthy woman enters TCH to deliver her baby the hospital has a responsibility to ensure the safety and to mitigate any risks of causing harm to both her and her child. One enters the hospital in good faith that this will occur.
Clarifying the procedures and an investigation into this specific incident are important, but we also need to establish whether the policies and procedures are appropriate. To that end, I am calling on the minister to review these procedures to ensure that the risk of newborns being exposed to infectious diseases such as TB is reduced.
I have heard Jon Stanhope on the radio dismiss the issue by saying that infection can occur just as easily in a workplace. I understand that Charles Guest used the example of a bus stop. Ms Gallagher is quoted in the Canberra Times as saying that we are exposed to such diseases in shopping malls. I believe that the Canberra community—in particular, women who are about to deliver a child at the Canberra Hospital—would expect policies and procedures at the Canberra Hospital to provide for better protection from infectious diseases such as TB than occurs in a shopping mall.
I am very concerned also that in this case there has been a breakdown in communication between the minister’s office and her department and between her