Costly flight proves a heartache for patient
By Alex Easton
HAVING an angiogram done was the most painful experience Michael Wawn has ever had, but that’s not why he’s unhappy with NSW Health.
The Lismore resident can’t understand why the health service would have blown about $17,000 shipping him to Sydney when it could have sent him to use the angio-suite down the road at St Vincent’s private hospital for less that a quarter of the cost.
Mr Wawn said he was sent to Lismore Base Hospital in early January suffering chest and shoulder pains. Doctors at the hospital treated him for heart problems before deciding he needed an angiogram and biopsy.
No problem there. But instead of using the angio-suite owned by North Coast Radiology and based at St Vincent’s Hospital, which costs about $3500 per treatment for private patients, he was put on an air ambulance and flown to Sydney’s Royal North Shore Hospital for a four-night stay.
Mr Wawn said he was told the air ambulance flight, during which he was closely attended by medical staff, cost about $5000 to get him to Sydney and another $5000 when he was flown back a few days later. He was told in Sydney that staying at Royal North Shore’s cardiac unit cost taxpayers about $870 per night.
That created a bill for taxpayers of $13,480. Assuming the use of Royal North Shore’s angio-suite cost the same as Lismore’s, that meant a total bill of $17,230.
Apart from that, the trip to Sydney meant Mr Wawn and his partner both had to take more time off work – losing leave time for Mr Wawn and thousands of dollars in income for his partner, who is self-employed.
“How stupid is that?” Mr Wawn said. “Why can’t the health service spend $3500? Why not just write a cheque and save all the hassles of flying to everything.”
North Coast Area Health Service chief executive Chris Crawford said the health service was in negotiations to let public patients use the suite at St Vincent’s, but even if that agreement were already in place it was unlikely to have made any difference to Mr Wawn.
Mr Crawford said the St Vincent’s suite was presently rated to treat only low-risk cases. While not having any details of Mr Wawn’s treatment, Mr Crawford said the use of an air ambulance suggested he was in a more serious category and would have been sent to Sydney regardless.
Mr Crawford said the hospital would be able to do its own angiograms from mid-next year when a new cardiac facility was built.