Grieving families endure delays burying loved ones due to lack of autopsy services at regional hospitals


Posted

November 10, 2018 12:55:42

Burying a loved one is never easy but a lack of autopsy services in regional New South Wales is causing families to suffer through lengthy delays before being able to say their final goodbyes.

“It was 16 days after Mark died that we could finally lay him to rest,” Jill Jones said.

“Just him passing away was bad enough but then having to sit around waiting, not being told anything — it was just not on.”

Mrs Jones’ son, Mark, died last year at the age of 52 after swerving to avoid a kangaroo and hitting an embankment in Gundagai in the Riverina region.

His death was unexpected and not due to natural causes, which meant a coronial autopsy was required to determine the exact cause of death.

Until 2016, medical officers who were not specialist forensic pathologists could perform coronial autopsies at some regional hospitals in NSW.

But since then, the system has become centralised and specialised so the procedure can only be performed by forensic specialists — which are in short supply worldwide — in facilities in Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong.

Making tragic times even worse

Because Mark died after the change, instead of being taken to Wagga Base Hospital 45 minutes away, his body was transported 600km north to Newcastle, which is the case for most unexpected deaths in the Riverina.

Mark’s body was returned to his family more than two weeks after the day he died.

“Mark’s body lay in hospital for four days until they could organise a contractor to take him all the way to Newcastle,” Mrs Jones said.

“Not being anywhere near them, knowing they’ve died tragically and thinking of them being shoved from pillar to post, it was just terrible.”

Sadly, Mrs Jones’ story is not unique.

Gloria Schultz’s son, Dean, was 45 when he committed suicide two years ago at her home in Cootamundra.

His body also lay in a local hospital for four days before being transported to Newcastle for a coronial autopsy.

“For 16 days, we sat and waited,” Mrs Schultz said.

“It’s a terrible journey and all you can think about is them being treated like a bag of wheat, moving from one spot to another.

“We couldn’t really plan anything for his funeral until we knew when we’d get him back either, and all I wanted was my boy at home.”

Efficiency is the goal

Most coronial autopsies are carried out within 24 to 72 hours of a body being admitted to a facility, NSW Health Pathology said in a statement.

“The present model provides the most efficient and effective use of our available highly specialised staff and the technology available,” the statement said.

“Our service is now in line with modern, best practice and ensures we can provide high quality care, compassion and dignity for our deceased patients.”

Mrs Jones finds that difficult to accept.

“I’m just wondering, have they spoken to a family who has had to have their loved ones carted all the way to Newcastle and wait more than two weeks to bury them?” Mrs Jones said.

“Are we second-class citizens in the country? We should not be treated this way and neither should our loved ones.”

Mrs Schultz vehemently agrees.

“I’m absolutely appalled we have to go through this because we live in a country area,” Mrs Schultz said.

“I just don’t know where the heart of the health department is.”

Not good enough

It is a sentiment Wagga Wagga’s newly-elected Independent MP Dr Joe McGirr also shares.

“The bottom line is that for country people to face these delays is just not acceptable, and it’s one of those issues that makes them feel second-rate,” Mr McGirr said.

“I cannot believe and simply don’t accept that we can’t make this process better.

“I realise there’s a workforce shortage, but simply saying everything has to be centralised and not taking into account the impact it’s having on grieving families and communities, that’s just not good enough.”

The former GP has requested a full investigation by NSW Health Pathology into the delays and said he is committed to bringing about change.

“I think the message is that efficiency and outcomes are more important than caring, and that’s just not on,” Mr McGirr said.

“Whether the solution is to fly in forensic pathologists or use remote support for local doctors, I’m not sure.

“We do have telehealth in many different areas. We’ve got sophisticated communications systems. Surely we can organise it so that we could partly train local practitioners.”

A change to the current system will not change what the Jones and Schultz families have already been through but the women said they will do anything to help other families from having the same painful wait.

“I don’t want anyone else to experience the pain, the suffering, the waiting of those long days and nights,” Mrs Schultz said.

Topics:

death,

forensic-science,

health,

grief,

gundagai-2722,

cootamundra-2590,

wagga-wagga-2650,

newcastle-2300



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