Medical expert to be brought in for Calvary coronial case

An independent medical expert will be brought in by the ACT Coroners Court to determine whether the 2017 death of a Canberra woman following a stay at Calvary Hospital will be heard in a full inquiry.

Robyn, who did not want her surname published, referred the death of her 85-year-old mother Gwen to the Coroners Court in June after she alleged Gwen's death was a result of systemic bullying and intimidation at the hospital.

Robyn said a culture of bullying and intimidation at the hospital led to her mother's death.

Photo: Karleen Minney

Coroner Beth Campbell said a preliminary assessment would take place into the death, with an interstate medical expert brought in to examine Gwen's medical records.

A decision to hold the preliminary assessment was made last week, after it was found the referral did not have sufficient evidence on its own to determine whether the case would lead to a hearing.

Coroner Beth Campbell said finding a suitably qualified expert willing to do the work would take time.

"A further decision about the matter will be made once I have received and considered the expert report," the coroner said.

Gwen was admitted to the hospital in April 2017 due to an infected leg ulcer and contracted sepsis during a weekend in May. She deteriorated rapidly, dying in a nursing facility in July.

It's alleged staff told Robyn specialist doctors weren't able to come in on the weekend in May due to a fear of intimidation and backlash from colleagues.

Robyn told the Sunday Canberra Times she was disappointed the referral to the court was not enough to lead to an immediate inquest.

"I understand and respect that the coroner is doing what she can at this point in time," she said.

"At the same time, I am also aware that it will probably take a couple of months before they get hold of someone with the relevant expertise.

"It's a bit frustrating as this has been a long and arduous process and one that most people wouldn't want to go through."

In addition to the referral, Robyn also wrote to ACT Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay asking to look into the circumstances of her mother's death.

Under the ACT Coroners Act, an inquest can be held if the Attorney-General requests the coroner to do so.

A spokeswoman for the Attorney-General said the request was received on August 21 and requests made to the office to direct an inquest are rare.

A previous investigation by the ACT Health Services Commission found Calvary staff failed to call emergency medical teams to treat Gwen, despite her condition being serious enough to warrant an emergency response.

One staff member told the investigation a nurse on staff during the weekend in May did not want to call emergency specialists due to bullying that had taken place due to similar incidents.

Transcripts of meetings between Robyn's family and Calvary showed one staff member said "there was a culture in some areas of Calvary Public Hospital of not making after-hours calls to medical staff due to retribution".

Robyn said she made the referral to the court to shine a light on alleged widespread bullying at the hospital.

"It's a matter of patient safety. In three instances over that weekend I was told that my mother was not treated because of bullying and intimidation," she said.

"As a result, my mother ended up dying earlier than she would have."

In a statement, a Calvary spokesman said the hospital would cooperate with the preliminary assessment.

"This occurs routinely through a number of clinical review committees and forms an important part of ongoing quality improvement processes at Calvary and all other health and hospital services," the spokesman said.

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