Cover-up claims under scrutiny
Friday, 17th January, 2020
By Craig Brealey
The NSW Ombudsman is investigating allegations that the former Chief Executive of the Far West Health District was involved in covering up the circumstances relating to the death of a patient at the Coffs Harbour Hospital in 2014.
Stephen Rodwell was the Executive Director of Workforce, Nursing and Midwifery at the Mid North Coast Local Health District when Jamie Byrne (42) died overnight in the hospital’s Mental Health In-Patient Unit in July of that year.
In 2017, Mr Rodwell was the Chief Executive of the FWLHD when an 18-year-old local lad died after being misdiagnosed in the Broken Hill Hospital’s emergency department.
BH Hospital management was found to have downgraded the cause of his death which resulted in it not being referred immediately for investigation.
It is now the subject of a Coronial inquest, which is due begin in Broken Hill in May.
Last month the Ombudsman’s office announced that it had opened an investigation into the Mid North Coast LHD’s senior management and the NSW Ministry of Health over allegations raised by John Greville, who was the District Investigations Manager for the Health District at the time, and the District Nurse Manager, Karen Allen.
Mr Greville and Ms Allen reported on Mr Byrne’s death in 2015 and they told the BDT they went to the Ombudsman because the Health Ministry had ignored their calls for a thorough investigation into how management had handled the case.
Among their allegations are that senior management changed their reports, ignored evidence of serious misconduct by nursing staff, and forced Mr Greville, Ms Allen and two other staff out of their jobs for raising the alarm.
Mr Byrne’s death was entirely avoidable, said Ms Allen.
He was held overnight and despite being placed on 30-minute observations, the father of seven was found the following morning, apparently deceased for up to 10 to 15 hours.
Ms Allen’s investigation found that some of the nurses on the night shift fabricated the observations check list and took unauthorised breaks of up to two hours.
Mr Greville said it was also discovered that Mr Byrne, a drug user, had not been tested for drugs in his system when he attended the Coffs Harbour emergency department, and died due to an adverse reaction to a drug he was administered in hospital, together with other medications already in his system.
All patients with a drug dependence history were required to have a blood test and urinalysis before treatment, he said.
“This did not occur in this instance.
“The Chief Executive of the hospital and Mr Rodwell, despite being aware of these findings and other failures to properly maintain the patient’s care, did not report those matters to the Coroner or indeed the findings of Ms Allen’s report,” said Mr Greville.
“When we started uncovering things, that’s when they started making allegations against us,” he said.
He said Mr Byrne’s widow was misled about the circumstances of his death and given a “mediocre mercy payment” by the District owing to its negligence.
Mr Greville said the management ordered him to “not pursue an investigation into the staff misconduct that led to Mr Byrne’s avoidable death”.
On September 8 last year the ABC’s Four Corners program reported on several cases of patients dying in NSW country hospitals due to misconduct or neglect caused by understaffing and overwork.
Among the cases examined was that of the 18-year-old in Broken Hill.
Mr Rodwell tenderered his resignation as Chief Executive on August 30 and left the post on November 29.
According to Mr Greville, Mr Rodwell was just a cog in a health management machine that automatically sought to hide cases of serious misconduct.
“Rodwell is part of a bigger problem where cover-ups are seen as the norm so as to not bring the Health District into disrepute, and this is often accepted by the Ministry,” he said.
Emails provided to the BDT show that he and Ms Allen made repeated requests over the years to the Health Ministry to investigate Mr Byrne’s death, provided more information and sought meetings with the Ministry and the Health Minister, Brad Hazzard.
“The investigation would have taken any skilled investigator three months to conclude and reach the outcomes based upon the evidence provided to it,” said Mr Greville.
“However, the Ministry decided to pursue the investigation in a piecemeal approach, often trying to look at ways to find conflict with evidence provided to it and wilfully failed to interview all the witnesses provided to them so as to assist them in forming inaccurate conclusions.
“The Ministry drove the investigations and directed the investigators what they wanted them to do as opposed to conducting a truly independent investigation.
“It appears the Ministry itself is embroiled in covering up some of the matters.”
Mr Greville said he took leave as a result of the “bullying, harassment and false allegations” made against him by Mr Rodwell and other senior managers of the Mid North Health District.
“I have an approved Worker’s Compensation claim as do three other staff who have also suffered the same fate, primarily because we chose to speak up,” he said.
Mr Greville said he recently won his compensation claim but was denied voluntary redundancy by the Health District because, he was told, his position as investigator had been “deleted”.
Mr Greville is a former NSW Police Officer with awards for bravery, devotion to duty and courage.
He was also a Principle Investigating Consultant for the Australian Eastern Territory’s Salvation Army where he discovered endemic protection of historic child abuse by its officers.
He also gave evidence to the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Abuse.
The BDT sought comment from the Health Ministry about the allegations before the Ombudsman.
“The Ministry of Health is aware that Mr Greville has raised concerns with the NSW Ombudsman,” said a spokesperson for NSW Health.
“The Ministry of Health has contacted the Office of the Ombudsman and will co-operate with any requests or inquiries made by that office.
“While the matter is being considered by the Ombudsman it is not appropriate to comment further.”