Hurt man 'escaped' hospital

BALLINA Hospital rewrote its emergency department triage guidelines for head injuries when staff and management were told of the death of Walter Mark Hickling, an inquest heard yesterday.

Mr Hickling, 51, was taken to Ballina Hospital by paramedics when he fell and hit his head on a concrete footpath after being punched by another man during a row outside a kebab shop in May last year. Neither man was a customer of the shop.

Giving evidence during the inquest at Ballina Court yesterday, registered nurse Adrian Walsh said he was on duty at the hospital's accident and emergency department when Mr Hickling was brought in by paramedics.

Mr Walsh said he had 17 years experience as a nurse and, since starting at Ballina Hospital in February last year, had gotten to know Mr Hickling well through his numerous presentations at the emergency department.

He said in the four-and-a-half months he had worked at Ballina Hospital Mr Hickling had presented 18 times with varying levels of intoxication.

“Walter was a lovely bloke,” he said. “Even though he was intoxicated he remained a nice bloke, gregarious to the point of being amorous.

“He would claim he loved you and would thank you for whatever you did for him.”

Mr Walsh said paramedics told him Mr Hickling had briefly lost consciousness after he fell on the concrete.

He said Mr Hickling was drunk, had a cut upper lip and a possible head injury.

Mr Walsh said the procedure for people in Mr Hickling's condition was to be put under observation for four hours.

But whenever staff tried to examine or perform observations on Mr Hickling he would fend them off. He also continually tried to climb out of his bed in the emergency department.

Mr Walsh said medical observations that were gathered from Mr Hickling were consistent with heavy intoxication.

Meanwhile, Mr Hickling's girlfriend, Karen Deacon, had arrived in the emergency department waiting room and was calling to Mr Hickling, who was calling back.

Mr Walsh said the emergency department was busy when Mr Hickling was brought in at 2.30pm on Sunday, May 27, last year. Nine people required emergency care and, while there were four staff rostered at the time, two were on meal breaks and the two doctors on duty were elsewhere in the hospital.

“I was continually trying to triage and care for patients,” he said.

The inquest heard Mr Hickling eventually succeeded in escaping through the ambulance dock while staff were busy with other patients.

Mr Walsh said he did not chase after Mr Hickling because he had other people to look after.

Mr Hickling collapsed the next day with a brain haemorrhage and died at Gold Coast Hospital.

Since Mr Hickling's death, the hospital had tightened procedures for head injury cases.

The inquest continues.



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