Hospital Heads Must Roll

A patient died after having been evicted from Christchurch Hospital and dumped at a bus stop. PAT PILCHER writes that there must be consequences.

Every once in awhile you read something that leaves you feeling shell-shocked. The story on Stuff of the horrific treatment of Neil David Jones by Canterbury District Health Board is such a story.

Jones got admitted to Christchurch Hospital being jaundiced and very ill, owing to what was later cited as alcoholism by the coroner.

After 20 days, Jones’ doctor decided that he was well enough to discharge, despite the fact that he was still jaundiced and suffering from bouts of diarrhoea and vomiting.

Even though Jones was diagnosed as fit to discharge, he’d defecated in his clothes. Because of this, he was dressed in hospital pyjamas before being wheeled from the hospital.

This is where matters took a shocking turn.

Jones had nowhere to go. That didn’t bother Canterbury District Health Board staff. They dumped him, still dressed in hospital pyjamas, at a nearby bus stop.

Even though Jones was deemed well enough to be discharged, he was still so ill that he spent six hours lying on the footpath by the bus stop. Making matters even worse, this happened in plain sight of the hospital.

According to the Stuff story, several members of the public asked hospital staff to help. Hospital security checked on him every hour, and it was clear that he wasn’t well. After spending six hours lying on the footpath, Jones was taken back to the Emergency Department. No further medical assessments occurred.

Reading between the lines, Jones may not have been an easy patient. This most likely explains why the police got called to remove him, and is also most likely why he got trespassed from the hospital.

The hospital’s security staff seem to have developed some medical skills. They decided that “Neil was faking his illness,” according to the Coroner. Their considered opinion also aligned with that of his physician, Dr Gearry, who according to the Coroner had also decided that Neil was faking parts of his illness and wanted “a free ride”.

Jones ended up at the Christchurch City Mission. Within hours of arriving, he was vomiting blood. He went back to hospital by ambulance, where at 7am on October 30, he died. The cause of his death according to the Coroner was alcoholic liver disease.

Serious questions need answering, like: When is it acceptable for hospitals to dump patients at bus stops? Why didn’t they call the city mission or other welfare agencies?

I get that Jones may have been a difficult patient. I also get that the Emergency Department staff may have been stretched beyond breaking point, but this doesn’t justify the treatment dished out. It is nothing short of horrific.

Why was he left on a cold pavement only metres from the hospital’s doors for an unbelievable six hours? This cannot have been comfortable. Average temperatures for Christchurch in October 2013 ranged from 7C to 17C. Jones was wearing nothing more than pyjamas. He must have been cold.

If he’d been faking it, as alleged by hospital staff, it would be fair to assume that he’d not have remained prone on the pavement for six hours.

Some very poor decisions got made. These range from dumping Jones at a bus stop in nothing but pyjamas, to the decision that he was faking his illness.

While the Coroner appears to have ruled that these decisions may not have caused Jones’ death, they set an ugly precedent. A worrying aspect of this terrible situation is that if Christchurch Hospital’s systems are not overhauled, and if the individuals involved are not censured, the odds of something similarly terrible happening again are high.

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