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Inquest into teen’s death

Monday, 16th September, 2019

By Michael Murphy

An inquest has been called into the death of Broken Hill teenager Alex Braes whose shocking case received national media attention last week after it aired on ABC’s Four Corners.

A “directions hearing” before Deputy State Coroner Elizabeth Ryan is scheduled for Friday this week in a Sydney courthouse.

A directions hearing is usually a short discussion about what should happen next in the case. The Coroner decides the best way to conduct the inquest.

Magistrate Ryan has experience in medical cases. Last year she ruled that a Sydney gastroenterologist should never have operated on an obese woman, who died when her stomach developed a tear after weight-loss surgery.

It’s likely an inquest into the death of Alex Braes would be held in Broken Hill. Its date and location could be set at this Friday’s directions hearing.

An outpouring of grief followed the Four Corners report ‘Health Hazard’ last week. Many in Broken Hill shared stories of the loss of their loved ones; some still have questions unanswered about what actually happened to them.

In the ‘Health Hazard’ report, former Broken Hill nurses and clinicians decided to go public about “systemic failures” they believed have dogged Broken Hill hospital for years.

“I’ve worked in 30 different locum hospitals since I’ve retired, and I’ve never seen anything like Broken Hill in my entire career,” former Broken Hill obstetrician Dr Simon Stewart-Rattray told Four Corners.

Others said they were concerned about the safety of patients, and warned management of a “catastrophic event” if the culture was not changed at the hospital.

Feeling ignored, they approached NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard who commissioned a report.

The report contained 30 recommendations about improving management of the hospital, but there was no mention of the death of Alex Braes.

“Why is it that the very reason they came to meet you - the death of Alex Braes - is not mentioned at all in the review?” ABC journalist Louise Milligan asked the NSW Health Minister.

“I can’t do those reports,” the minister said. “I can’t recommend that those reports be done in a particular way.”

It’s not clear how or when the inquest into the death of Alex Braes was initiated. BDT asked the Department of Justice for clarification last week.

Last week, Barwon MP Roy Butler said he wanted an “audit” of every health facility in NSW while Shadow Heath Minister Ryan Park called for an independent inquiry to get “to the bottom of the tragic circumstances that resulted in the death of Alex”.

He said the inquiry would help put in place the “funding and system improvements” to reduce the chance that any other family has to go “through the heartbreak and loss that Alex’s loved ones are now enduring”.

Inquests are generally open to the public, but in certain circumstances, the coroner has the power to exclude individuals, or the public generally, from attending proceedings. The coroner can also prohibit the publication of evidence. 

Friday’s directions hearing will begin in the Forensic Medicine and Coroners Court complex in Lidcombe, western Sydney, Courtroom 3, at 9.30am.

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