Doctortreating coronavirus hotel quarantine patient Kenny Watson hits back at Health Department
A doctor who says she was tasked with single-handedly caring for 600 cruise ship passengers quarantined in Perth hotels says she was "thrown under a bus" by the WA Health Department after a patient in her care was rushed into intensive care.
- Overseas arrivals must quarantine in hotel rooms for 14 days
- A doctor caring for these people says there is not adequate staff or PPE
- She was let go after delays in getting a very sick man to hospital
Perth has seen hundreds of cruise ship passengers quarantined in hotels across the city.
Yesterday it emerged that pleas for emergency help by two passengers — Kathleen and Kenny Watson, who were staying at Perth's Crown Promenade hotel — went unanswered for hours and that an ambulance that was called for them was turned away.
Mr Watson, 70, has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and is now seriously ill in hospital.
The case has prompted an urgent investigation by WA Health authorities and the doctor who was charged with looking after the Watsons while in hotel quarantine has had her contract terminated by Healthcare Australia.
Doctor says she was 'thrown under a bus'
But the doctor, who asked not to be identified, has revealed to ABC Radio Perth the enormous obstacles she faced in caring for hundreds of passengers across two hotels while dealing with a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE).
She criticised the WA Health Department for "throwing her under a bus".
"They are making me the scapegoat for their incompetency," she said.
The GP said she was given one to two hours' notice by a recruitment agency to turn up at the Crown hotels last Monday.
"I basically realised only when I arrived on site that I was one doctor, with one nurse, and had been put in charge of 600 guests — 300 at the Crown Prom and 300 at the Crown Metropol," she said.
"I wasn't given any guidelines, or protocols, procedures — there was no PPE, there was actually nothing.
"I just turned up to the hotel and it was sort of like 'well what do I do next?' and they said 'well you go and figure it out'."
Lack of PPE meant direct examination not possible
Referring to Mr and Mrs Watson, the doctor said the initial message she received was that Mr Watson was "just a little malnourished" and she did not feel that he should be at the top of her priority list.
When the couple could not get any help for several hours their daughter in Sydney called an ambulance, but it was turned away when it reached the hotel.
The doctor said this happened because she was told by a paramedic who went to the couple's room that they were not a medical emergency.
She said she did not inspect the situation for herself because she had no PPE.
"The problem is that we still hadn't been receiving the PPE that the Health Department had been promising us, so I couldn't really do anything more than what the paramedic had done and stand across the corridor," the doctor said.
"I would have had to don the full PPE to go into the room to make some sort of more direct assessment.
"I had my hands tied behind my back in terms of doing any further examination.
"I said perhaps this is just, you know, that everyone is getting upset and angry that they are up here in the Crown like everyone else … I'll deal with him, I'll come back and have a look at him, but there are so many other cases that I have got."
It wasn't until the doctor received a phone call from a medical practitioner who had been on the couple's cruise ship, the Costa Luminosa, filling her in on Mr Watson's medical history and poor health during the trip that she decided to call another ambulance.
"When I heard this story, I was like: 'What! This is really bad and I better call the ambulance right now.'"
Doctor says department must take responsibility
WA Health said it had requested Healthcare Australia make changes to their rostered personnel, saying the organisation "was not meeting the expectations of the state".
The doctor concerned said she was told on Sunday afternoon not to return to the Crown hotels.
But, she said the department had to take responsibility for the lack of staff and PPE.
"In a hospital, you would have one doctor in a ward with about 20 to 30 patients at most," she said.
"But that one doctor is also supported by a team of other doctors and nursing staff."
The doctor also provided in an insight into the process for passengers with health concerns at the Crown hotels at the time she was working there.
She said guests would ring a guest services number which went to a Crown hotel call centre in Melbourne and that this would be redirected back to the hotel's reception where staff would write down the details on a post-it note and give it to a nurse.
PPE was available, Health Department says
WA Health told ABC Radio Perth they were investigating the incident "as a priority".
This included reviewing the nursing and medical support for about 2,000 guests at seven hotels across Perth and almost 200 people on Rottnest Island to ensure they had the very best access to care.
"It is the responsibility of Healthcare Australia to determine the staffing ratio of rostered nurses and doctors required to meet the needs of people in quarantine at Crown," a statement said.
"It is important to note that the people inside quarantine at Crown are not hospital patients — if they require clinical care then they are transferred to hospital."
WA Health said PPE was always available at Crown and was restocked as necessary.
Doctor's claims shouldn't be 'batted away': AMA
Australian Medical Association WA president Andrew Miller said the doctor's claims about a lack of PPE should not be dismissed.
"We know it has been very short in lots of places so it would be surprising to us if the Crown hotel was the one place in Perth that had a good supply of PPE," Dr Miller said.
"She's a doctor of impeccable reputation and long experience so I think that her claims need to be taken seriously and fully investigated, and not just batted away.
"The position the doctor was put in, I think, was unreasonable.
"Above all, we need to ensure that these people are being properly looked after.
"If they are being forced into quarantine by the community then the Government needs to provide them with adequate supervision and medical care."
Mrs Watson was released from Royal Perth Hospital last night after testing negative to COVID 19.
The couple had been on a "trip of a lifetime" to celebrate their 70th birthdays and joined the cruise in Miami in late February.
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