A 55-year-old palliative care patient may have been alive when he was put in a body bag and taken to a morgue, with the shocking case now referred to the state coroner and two other inquiries.
A doctor at Rockingham General Hospital, in Perth’s south, was later asked to backdate Kevin Reid’s death certificate, but he refused, according to Business News.
Nurses believed Reid had died in the evening of Sept. 5 and he was then transferred to the morgue without a death certificate being issued at the time.
The next day, fresh blood was found on Reid’s hospital gown from a tear to one of his arms, two limbs had shifted and his eyes were open.
“I believe the frank blood from a new skin tear, arm position and eye signs were inconsistent with a person who was post-mortem on arrival at the morgue,” the doctor wrote in his report to the coroner.
Reid’s death was then recorded as Sept. 6.
The discrepancy was only noticed when a funeral director questioned the date because the family believed Reid had died the night before.
The doctor alleges he was asked to backdate the death certificate, which he refused to do and instead told the head of his department.
Reid’s brother posted a tribute to him at the time on social media.
“Sad to say my brother Kevin passed away last night after a long battle with illness,” he wrote.
“We love him and miss him and he will be in our hearts forever.”
Opposition health spokeswoman Libby Mettam told NCA NewsWire it was an “absolutely horrific” allegation that Reid was still alive when he was placed in the body bag.
“The allegations that a doctor was directed to backdate the time of death is also deeply disturbing as well and warrants a thorough investigation and warrants an investigation by the Corruption and Crime Commission,” she said.
“These reports are deeply disturbing and our heart goes out to the family.
“It’s difficult to understand how this could possibly have taken place in the WA hospital system.”
An Office of the State Coroner spokeswoman said an investigation was under way.
“After receiving notification from a doctor at the Rockingham Hospital of the death of a 55-year-old man, the Coroner’s Court on Monday, Oct. 3 commenced to investigate whether the death is a reportable death,” she said.
“The court does not make public any of those investigations.”
The Australian Medical Association WA president Mark Duncan-Smith told reporters he supported a “full and thorough” investigation by the coroner and WA Health.
“It is clearly a very alarming set of details and our thoughts go out to the family, who will want to know answers and deserve answers as to what went wrong,” he said.
“We also need to find out the answers to what went wrong so we can ensure that this never happens again.”
The opposition has called for a royal commission into the health system but Dr. Duncan-Smith said he did not think that was “absolutely necessary”.
“I’ve not heard of a certificate of life extinct being asked to be backdated,” he said.
“If that is in fact what has occurred, then I would also suggest that a referral to the CCC would be appropriate.
“On the basis of the information I’ve been provided (via the media), I think that the doctor has acted with integrity and with good ethics, and I fully support their actions.”
Speaking generally, Dr. Duncan-Smith explained a doctor was usually called to declare life extinct before a person was moved.
Asked about reports the family had not been notified, Dr. Duncan-Smith said that suggestion “horrified” him, adding it would be “absolutely unconscionable” to find out via the media.
South Metropolitan Health Service chief executive Paul Forden said in a statement an experienced clinical nurse determined the patient had died.
The body was released to the mortuary five hours later after the family spent time with the man, he added.
“The following day, a doctor was requested to complete the death certificate and the death in hospital form,” he said.
“The attending doctor completed the appropriate forms and did not note any concerns on these records at the time.
“The death certificate was noted by the undertaker to be dated a day after the patient had passed on the ward, that is on the day the doctor completed the necessary forms.
“We treat these matters seriously, including any unconfirmed allegations and as such, an internal investigation is under way, and the case has been referred to the coroner’s office.
“Let’s be clear, the investigation is around protocols following a death, not about whether or not the patient was deceased.”
WA Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson said she was concerned about the serious allegations.
“(I) requested an urgent briefing from SMHS, who have advised that an investigation is under way,” she said.
“SMHS is in contact with the patient’s family. For the sake of all staff involved, and importantly the family, it is important that we allow the investigation and any external investigation to run its course.”
Nine News reports the CCC is also looking into the incident, making it the third investigation.
The hospital received funding last year from the McGowan government for 30 new beds.
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