Ann Parsons
Ann Parsons Trinette Stevens

Senior surgeon critical of Ann Parsons' care

A SENIOR Queensland brain surgeon says a junior doctor should not have been responsible for Yeppoon grandmother Ann Parsons in the hours before her death.

Ms Parsons was recovering from brain surgery at the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital in October 2012 when she lost her ability to speak and recall her name.

A brain scan revealed she had had a stroke but hours later she was transferred out of the intensive care unit into the neurological ward where she continued to deteriorate and eventually had a heart attack.

Giving expert evidence on Wednesday at an inquest into her death, Dr Robert Campbell said he believed Ms Parsons should never have been taken out of the ICU.

He said if she had been his patient, he would not have wanted Dr Holly Bernardi, the only neurological doctor on the floor at the time, to be making critical decisions about her care.

The inquest previously heard Dr Bernardi had called one of the doctors involved in Ms Parsons' surgery to review her post-operative brain scan but she was ultimately left to trust her own judgment.

Dr Campbell, a neurosurgeon at Brisbane's Mater Hospital, independently assessed the case.

He said he believed both the surgeon who performed the operation and the on-call specialist of the day should have been contacted directly given the "unexpected” complications Ms Parsons had suffered.

"I have some concern here that the most junior person in the system was making the most critical decision at this point in time,” Dr Campbell said.

"Our junior doctors are perhaps more junior than they were 20 years ago - a person of Dr Bernardi's experience would not be in this position at other hospitals ... there would have been a more senior registrar on call and perhaps present ... (the protocol) recognises the situation of having a fairly junior person in a high-risk, high-intensity situation caring for neuro patients.”

When Ms Parsons was transferred to the neurological ward she was placed on four-hourly observations. It was during a routine check that Ms Parsons was discovered in cardiac arrest.

Asked whether he believed it was acceptable that the care of someone with Ms Parsons' symptoms had been left to the "discretion of nurses”, Dr Campbell replied "No, I do not”.

He said it would have been reasonable to ask for hourly observations and possibly a one-on-one nurse who was familiar with the patient's condition.

He also believed Ms Parsons' symptoms and unexplained irritability should have "triggered” an instinct in more experienced nurses that something was not right.

Ms Parsons' son David Pickham, a medical researcher at Stanford Health Care in the United States, is assisting the inquest.

He believes Queensland's biggest hospital failed to adequately care for his mother post-surgery and communicate with her family.

In thanking Mr Pickham for travelling to Australia, Coroner Christine Clements said she hoped the process had helped clarify some of the circumstances surrounding his mother's death but warned it would be next year before final submissions were made.


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