Public hospital poisons tot with an overdose of morphine -- but not even an apology forthcoming

Lies and coverups instead. Ain't government medicine grand?

Luckily for Owen, he will never remember his near-death experience at Brisbane's Royal Children's Hospital. But for his mother Rebecca Hughes it was a harrowing time she can never forget, one which has only been compounded by the reaction and inaction of health authorities.

Recovering from an operation late last year, two-year-old Owen was given an overdose of morphine so toxic that it would have been lethal for almost any other child his age. Only his well-worn experience with such drugs from repeated hospital procedures probably saved him.

However, Ms Hughes's horror at her son's treatment was made worse when a senior hospital official compared the overdose to a worker leaving their mobile phone at home. Since then she has battled hospital administrators and investigating authorities in an attempt to get answers and an apology.

"Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined how they have handled it," Ms Hughes told The Courier-Mail yesterday. "There are no other words for it but disgusting."

The incident occurred in November when Owen, 18 months old at the time, was recovering in the RCH's intensive care unit from another operation. He was born with a diaphragmatic hernia, a condition that effectively allows the contents of his abdomen to move into the chest cavity.

A nurse, believed to have been a recent graduate, administered a morphine drip but it wasn't until almost eight hours later that it was discovered the dose pumping through Owen's small frame was four times that required.

Owen turned blue and stopped breathing before the potentially lethal dose of the drug was discovered. He spent a week on life support. "The only reason Owen survived is because he has a high tolerance for narcotics because of all his previous surgery," Ms Hughes said.

"If that was any other kid he wouldn't have survived, and they have admitted to that in writing." However, further admissions from the hospital have been hard to come by, or non-existent.

In a meeting with senior hospital staff shortly after the incident, RCH's Pediatric Intensive Care Unit head Tony Slater attempted to dismiss Owen's brush with death. "He said: 'It is like this Rebecca, when I leave for work in the morning I have to remember to bring my mobile phone but sometimes I forget because I am human'," Ms Hughes said. "At that stage I got up and walked out, I was disgusted."

A report on Owen's treatment was subsequently undertaken but in another meeting with hospital authorities, Ms Hughes said they admitted it was flawed. The report claimed Owen was given extra morphine because he was at risk of waking and attempting to remove his intubation tube. He did not have a tube in at the time.

Only this month Dr Slater wrote to Ms Hughes apologising for his mobile phone gaffe. But attempts to get investigating authorities, including Queensland's Health Quality Complaints Commission and the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency, to seek answers to her son's overdose have failed. But after going public with her case on ABC Radio yesterday, Ms Hughes received an email from AHPRA promising to investigate.

Health Minister Paul Lucas has also committed to look into Owen's treatment and apologised on behalf of Queensland Health and clinical staff. "I have indicated that I am happy to meet with her to hear her story in person and the CEO of the Children's Health Service is also available to discuss clinical issues with her."


Note that it was a graduate nurse involved. They have only a fraction of the experience and on-job training that nurses had under the old in-house system. Credentialism very nearly killed this time

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