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April 1, 2023

Stroke victim labels health district investigation ‘a whitewash’

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When Paul Rea presented to Byron Central Hospital suffering a stroke on March 27 his wife was told to drive him to the Gold Coast. Photo supplied
When Paul Rea presented to Byron Central Hospital suffering a stroke on March 27 his wife was told to drive him to the Gold Coast. Photo supplied

Chris Dobney

A Coorabell stroke victim, whose wife was told by a doctor at Byron Central Hospital to drive him to John Flynn Hospital on the Gold Coast rather than go by ambulance, says the health district’s official response ignored the very issue that he was complaining about.

Echonetdaily’s revelations of Paul Rea’s concerns sparked an investigation by the Northern NSW Local Health District (NNSW LHD) but Mr Rea has called its conclusions ‘a whitewash’.

On May 2, NNSW LHD CEO Wayne Jones wrote to Mr Rea to advise him of the outcome of the investigation.

Mr Jones wrote that ‘the emergency director has interviewed the medical staff involved in your care and his findings are as follows:

  • A comprehensive assessment had been completed following your presentation to the ED, including a head computer tomography (CT) scan.
  • The assessment determined that you were at that time in a stable condition and that the best plan of care would be admission to a specialist bed.
  • As you were a private patient a decision was made to transfer you to John Flynn hospital under a neurologist.
  • The decision to transfer to by private transport was based on your stable condition.’

Why no ambulance?

But Mr Rea told Echonetdaily, ‘Frankly, I’m dismayed by this response. It’s a classic whitewash with the Health Department’s investigation missing the point entirely.

‘Nowhere does Mr Jones address my complaint and the issue of greatest public concern, that is, why was my wife required to drive me to John Flynn hospital after I had entered the health care system suffering a stroke?’

‘Questions that need answering include:

  • Whether the Byron Hospital Emergency Department requested an ambulance to transfer me;
  • If so, what was the response from the Ambulance Service?
  • If a request was not made, why not?
  • Is it Health Department policy to encourage inter-hospital transfers of stroke patients by private vehicle?
  • If not, why was this done in our case?

‘These questions are left unanswered by Mr Jones. He doesn’t mention the ambulance once in his letter.  What does he think our complaint is about?’ Mr Rea queried.

‘Also, Mr Jones uses the word ‘stable’ to describe my condition when the reality was that my condition deteriorated noticeably in the time taken to drive me to John Flynn. On arrival, I could barely get out of my wife’s car and barely walk when I did,’ Mr Rea said.


At the end of the letter, Mr Jones wrote, ‘I sincerely apologise for the distress you and your wife experienced during your admission to Byron Central Hospital and would like to assure you that we will be reviewing the transfer policy in response to your experience to ensure all decisions that made are clearly explained to patients and their carers.’

But Mr Rea believes this undertaking ‘is a far from adequate response to the issues raised by my experience. I note that he apologises sincerely for my experience at the hands of Byron Central Hospital but nowhere makes clear what it is he is apologising for. ‘

‘The idea that my complaint derived from a lack of comprehension by my wife and myself is false and highly patronising. The point is that we should never have been required to drive ourselves to John Flynn,’ Mr Rea said.

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  1. This is obviously happening throughout nsw….same thing happened with my father at Forbes Hospital requiring family to drive him from Forbes ED to Orange

  2. There should be clearly defined policy relating to such events and currently there most certainly is not in the public health system.
    Its all about responsibility and cost….Byron Hosp will argue they gave treatment to stabilise the condition…..they dont want the additional cost amounting to thousands, for an admission to the ward for ongoing care and subsequent transport of the patient to another facility. The elephant in the room is, ” who gets this care and who doesnt in a public hospital system” ….with all due respect would Mr Jones’ wife be asked to transport him to John Flynn in a similar circumstance…..therein lies the real ethical problem for public health and its not a new problem rather an inherent one!

  3. Unfortunately there appears to be a misunderstanding in the community that somehow Mullumbimby & Byron Bay hospitals coming together meant that we now have a “super dooper big” hospital” instead of two small hospitals. Whilst that is true in the size of the building, it is still a “small hospital” in the services it can provide, because the population base hasn’t changed. If Paul had had his stroke 18 months ago and presented to either Mullum or Byron hospitals, the treatment would have been the same, as would the outcome. He would have been triaged, assessed, stabelised and referred to either Tweed or John Flynn for treatment. As I understand it, that’s the correct protocol. With regard to why it was suggested his wife drive him to John Flynn, I can only assume was because his condition was considered stable. Had he been critical he would have been triaged as top priority and an ambulance would have transferred him. The last paragraph of your article in last weeks paper stated that after he was considered stable enough to travel they were given the option to wait several hours for an ambulance or make the journey in their own car and arrive in less than an hour. It would therefore appear the decision to drive their own car was their choice.Thankfully Mr Rae is none the worse for the experience. We are very lucky to have a facility like Byron Central Hospital, built on a site large enough to grow with the needs of the community long into the future, staffed by highly skilled, dedicated staff. Let’s give them our full support, they deserve it.


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