Hospital accused of 'incompetence or racial profiling' in treatment of Aboriginal singer

It's possible that a black may have been negligently treated by white staff.  I have lived in Darwin and the way many Aboriginals live around Darwin would put most people off, leading to a reluctance to have much to do with any one of them.

But, as it happens, I see what happened as the sort of routine negligence that you get in most over-worked government hospitals. Getting into surgery only 8 hours after arrival is in fact pretty good by such standards.

And making a mistake over his diagnosis is also a routine feature of government medicine.  Staff seldom have much time to sit down and take a detailed history.  And diagnosis is guesswork anyway.

And it takes time to look at a patient's notes too.  This guy had quite a history so the notes would have taken a while to digest.  So the most probable diagnosis -- Aboriginal alcohol problem -- was made and staff went on to other demands on their time.

This was government medicine, not racism

The doctor and manager for Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu have accused a Darwin hospital of either being incompetent or racially profiling the Indigenous singer during a recent medical incident.

Gurrumul was taken to the emergency department on Easter Sunday, with internal bleeding complications known as oesophageal varices, resulting from liver disease. His manager, Mark Grose, and specialist doctor, Paul Lawton claim Gurrumul was not adequately treated for eight hours, causing his health to deteriorate and him being placed in intensive care where he then received the necessary surgery.

Gurrumul has been battling liver disease related to having hepatitis B as a child, Lawton said, and hospital staff should have responded immediately. He said Gurrumul’s life had been risked because doctors did not perform the surgery in a timely manner.

Gurrumul had previously been hospitalised a month ago for the same reason, Lawton said.

In a published letter to the NT health department, Grose, who accompanied Gurrumul to hospital with nurse Michele Dowd, accused the hospital of leaving Gurrumul in A&E “for over eight hours, it seems, without any real attempt to treat the problem”.

“Why was he left for over eight hours when the reason for his admittance was clearly evident in Michele’s explanation to A&E staff and was clearly in all of his notes?” Grose wrote.

“There are two assumptions I can make which are both very disturbing but which need answering: Was Gurrumul Yunupingu’s level of A&E care related to assumptions based on his race or is there a serious fault in the system which allows someone to be largely ignored in A&E while seriously ill?”

The Top End Health Service categorically rejected the assertions.

Executive director of medical services, Professor Dinesh Arya, said a review was launched as soon as the concern about Gurrumul’s care were raised and he was “satisfied that care provided at RDH was timely and appropriate”.

“I will also be offering an opportunity to the patient and his carers/friends to meet with the clinical teams who were involved in providing care to the patient so that they have an opportunity to understand assessment findings, treatment provided and ask any questions. This will also enable clarity in relation to ongoing care and treatment of this patient.”

Arya said he and the RDH patient advocate also met with Gurrumul on Monday to ask him if he was satisfied with his treatment.

“It is concerning it has been suggested that some care assumptions may have been made based on the patient’s race,” he said.

“The hospital has a proud multicultural staff and more than 60% of patients admitted to Royal Darwin Hospital identify as Aboriginal. Claims of poor treatment due to a patient’s race have never been raised at the hospital and RDH will continue to provide the best possible service to all patients requiring treatment.”

Dr Lawton said the treatment of Gurrumul was not timely, and concurred with Grose’s assessment.

Lawton, who has been outspoken on issues of race in the treatment of kidney and liver disease, suggested the incident illustrated systemic issues with care of Indigenous people in hospitals.

He said someone had written on Gurrumul’s chart that he was a drinker, when he is not. “Someone has made that assumption initially and then it has been repeated and amplified based on no evidence whatsoever,” he told Guardian Australia.

“It’s assumed people with liver disease have alcohol problems. Which is, to use Mark’s term, racial profiling.”

Arya said no chart or medical record notes about a patient’s history were made without being confirmed. “Questions about use of alcohol and/or other substance use are part all clinical assessments,” he said.


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