Seven-year-old Phoebe Smith.
Seven-year-old Phoebe Smith. Northern Star

Little Phoebe's horror hospital visit

WHEN Meredith Hibbert took her grand-daughter, Phoebe Smith, 7, to Lismore Base Hospital's emergency department for treatment after an epileptic seizure they thought they would be safe.

However, Ms Hibbert hadn't reckoned on an agitated psychiatric patient terrifying Phoebe - and the rest of her family - by attacking the door and perspex windows of a secure room within the emergency department.

"We were right next to a part of the room where there was a perspex window and the door also had a perspex window," Ms Hibbert said.

"He began punching the window in the wall and kicking the door so violently the door was forced backwards on its hinges, nearly popping from the door frame.

"Every time he either punched the window or kicked the door Phoebe would jump. The doctors and nurses could not get the drip into her arm or the oxygen mask on her face.

"Jessica, her mother, was clearly distressed - everyone was scared."

Ms Hibbert said she and Jessica drove Phoebe to the hospital on Tuesday looking for relief after the child suffered an epileptic fit.

However, despite the best efforts of hospital staff, who Ms Hibbert said were working under difficult circumstances, things went from distressing to frightening.

"Phoebe was already traumatised before we got there from the seizure. We did not expect to be further traumatised once we got to hospital," she said.

"You are supposed to feel safe when you get to hospital."

Medical Staff Council executive Dr Chris Ingall said the council acknowledged the crowding and poor conditions for the staff and patients at Lismore Base Hospital emergency department.

"As a paediatrician I am concerned there is no separate paediatric area in the present emergency department," he said.

"We can't get a spot where kids are away from everywhere else and that is why the council is pushing for stage three of the Base Hospital redevelopment to start as soon as possible. That is the only way we will see a change in this unsatisfactory emergency department layout."

Dr Ingall said the paediatric area was close to the lock-down room which was used for mentally ill patients and those with drug and alcohol problems who were awaiting admission.

"With the opening of the new Richmond Clinic (to be called the Lismore Mental Health Service), which will have 15 new adults beds and eight new adolescent beds, this situation will only get worse because after-hours patients will need to be triaged through the emergency department."

Dr Ingall said the council had made its fears known to North Coast Area Health Service chief executive Chris Crawford.

NSW Nurses' Association representative Gil Wilson said mental health and drug and alcohol patients being admitted through emergency departments was an issue nationwide.

Lismore Base Hospital executive officer Dan Madden said the emergency department staff acted very appropriately in removing the child from a location that was apparently causing undue stress and her treatment was carried out with proper care and professionalism.

"People with behavioural disturbances, from whatever cause, regularly present to emergency departments and receive assessment by medical staff," he said.

"This is entirely appropriate, as patients need to have a comprehensive physical and mental health assessment so that proper treatment can be initiated, and if necessary they can be referred for specialised care, including mental health care.

"Working in the emergency department setting is highly demanding and can sometimes be stressful.

"A range of measures are in place to minimise any dangers to staff, patients and visitors, including secure rooms, such as the one mentioned.

"Other measures include security guards, duress alarms, and training in techniques to avoid or limit potentially dangerous situations."

Mr Madden said the admission process for mentally ill people would be faster, but would be otherwise unchanged once the new Lismore Mental Health Service fully opened on Monday.

"The greatly expanded mental health service at Lismore Base Hospital, an increase from a total of 25 beds to 40 adult and eight adolescent beds, will enable considerably faster admissions to the secure unit via the emergency department," he said.


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