Teen waits 14 hours with broken back
By ZOE SATHERLEY
A LISMORE teenager who broke his back in a car accident waited for 14 hours while doctors tried to find a spinal care bed for him.
Rhys Baxter's parents, Marina and Steve, want to know why.
Their 19-year-old son is now a paraplegic, convalescing in a Sydney rehabilitation hospital.
Although his spinal injury was so acute that he would have become a paraplegic anyway, Dr Chris Gavaghan, director of emergency at Lismore Base Hospital (LBH), said yesterday that the teenager's case highlighted an ongoing cross-border political dispute about where patients could be treated.
He said Rhys was declined a special spinal care bed (which LBH does not have) in a Brisbane hospital because he was a NSW patient.
"This is neither the first nor only instance when this has occurred," he said.
Dr Gavaghan personally spent five-and-a-half hours ringing NSW hospitals searching for a bed for the young man who had a severe spinal injury, a broken shoulder and a punctured lung.
But Chris Crawford, administrator of the Northern Rivers Area Health Service, said under the Australian Health Care Agreement, Queensland and NSW facilities were obliged to evaluate cross-border patients on the basis of clinical need, not their place of residence.
"The 42-bed Spinal Injuries Unit at Princess Alexandra Hospital was at maximum occupancy," he said.
"Consequently, Rhys was transferred to Sydney's Royal North Shore Hospital (RNS).
"During the patient's stay in LBH, he was under the care of a highly skilled and experienced emergency medical team, and monitored closely."
Following the accident on September 8 at Numulgi on a cold and wet night, the teenager was trapped in his overturned car, unable to move.
"I lay there all night, in bare feet, shorts and a T-shirt, freezing, in excruciating pain, praying to live and concentrating on just breathing," he said. "I knew my back was broken because I couldn't feel my legs."
A passing motorist found Rhys, who had only had his P-plates for four weeks, at dawn.
At Lismore Base Hospital Dr Gavaghan was on duty.
He said Rhys had an acute T6 spinal injury.
"The usual and best practice for this is to arrange a bed in the nearest spinal injuries unit ? in this case, Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane," he said.
"I spoke with the doctor who was on call and he intimated that it would definitely be best for him to be transferred to his unit.
"But after discussion with the unit medical director this was declined because he was a NSW patient."
Dr Gavaghan said that it was not uncommon for Brisbane hospitals to refuse to take NSW residents despite Tweed Hospital being the first port of call for many Gold Coast residents.
"Both State governments need to sit down and urgently address this issue," he said.
"It seems they have lost their compassion and humanity because of cost cutting pressure from Treasury."
A spokesman for NSW Health Minister Morris Iemma said under the Australian Health Care Agreement, serious cases like spinal care patients, could be transferred interstate based on what doctors deemed most appropriate.
A spokesperson for Queensland Health said they had not had enough time to speak with those staff involved in the incident but would immediately investigate the matter.
Read Monday's Star when Rhys Baxter talks about his ordeal.
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