Imagine how desperate the family of the Aboriginal woman who died by suicide at Hedland Health Campus must have been in the hours before her death.
Desperate enough to take their distressed loved one to a hospital, where they had the right to believe she would be safe.
Today, The West reveals staff at the hospital should have known about the woman’s precarious mental state.
She was a known suicide risk and had been receiving treatment for her mental illness for years.
And yet still she was put in a “side room” of the hospital and left on her own.
The fact that this clearly vulnerable woman was allowed to be alone for even a moment is astonishing.
It was while alone in this “side room”, when she should instead have been in the care of the health professionals her family had entrusted her to, that she took her own life.
It is a breathtaking tragedy.
A side effect of our sick health system is that you start to get used to breathtaking tragedies after a while.
It is essential that West Australians whose lives are in danger due to mental distress have somewhere to turn.
That news of this woman’s avoidable death still has the power to shock shows just how reprehensible it was.
The Health Department’s public response to the tragedy is also reprehensible.
The department’s answer has been to again try to spin its way out of the situation.
WA Country Health Service has refused to respond to questions about the woman’s care.
These include basic questions regarding how many staff were rostered on at the time of her death.
We know that Hedland Health Campus — like every hospital in the State — has struggled to find enough staff to cope with surging demand.
Last year, staff walked off the job to protest against excessive hours and burnout.
Still, WACHS has not acknowledged any rostering problems which may have contributed to this death.
Let’s not forget that when seven-year-old Aishwarya Aswath died after waiting two hours for help at Perth Children’s Hospital, the Government tried to deflect criticism of staffing levels. Premier Mark McGowan even said that PCH had a “very high staff-patient ratio” on the night of Aishwarya’s death.
Later, an independent report by the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care found the doctors and nurses rostered on at the time were “exhausted, demoralised, and relatively isolated”.
If under-resourcing contributed to this woman’s death, then West Australians deserve to know.
If it was some other factor — inattention, inexperience, or negligence — then they deserve to know that too.
It is essential that West Australians whose lives are in danger due to mental distress have somewhere to turn. It is essential that their families can put their faith in the ability of our health system to keep them safe.
This woman’s family had that faith, and now they are burying their loved one.
Anything other than a full and transparent investigation into this tragedy isn’t good enough.