Bega man told to walk home from hospital at 2am after arriving with chest pains

South East Regional Hospital
South East Regional Hospital. Photo: SNSWLHD

Much has been said and written about the South East Regional Hospital in 2017 – most of it negative.

And as someone that purports to tell the stories of South East NSW, I haven’t always been sure of how to respond to the growing community concerns around services.

Politics, self-interest, and my own shortcomings have at times muddied the waters for me, and been a handbrake on About Regional coverage. And I didn’t want to add to the avalanche of “hospital bashing” stories.

Paul’s story has changed that, it’s a no bullshit experience that goes to the heart of what a hospital is supposed to provide – care and compassion.

Paul is not his real name. In telling his story Paul doesn’t want to embarrass friends and clients that work at the new facility and has asked to remain anonymous. But he does want change and does want better for the community he has made his home.

Step 1 for Paul. Photo: Ian Campbell
Step 1 for Paul. Photo: Ian Campbell

Paul is a long time Bega Valley resident, “It’ll be 20 years in February,” he says.

A Victorian by birth, Paul says he followed his dad to Merimbula for a holiday and stayed.

He’s in a longterm relationship, in his fifties and runs his own business.

In early September on a Sunday evening, Paul and his partner called an ambulance to their Bega home.

Paul was having chest pains, “I’d had a few incidents that day, but after dinner, it got worse and worse,” he says.

Sitting in his kitchen with spag bol bubbling in the background, Paul recounts the experience telling me he couldn’t breathe and that the pain got “pretty bad”.

Step 2. Photo: Ian Campbell
Step 2. Photo: Ian Campbell

“They kept me in hospital for five hours, did blood tests and told me that I didn’t have a heart attack, [they told me] we think you’ve got angina,” Paul says.

The clock had moved around to 1:30 am by this stage and with a diagnosis in hand, Paul was advised to see his  GP during the week.

“They [then] gave me a blanket and said I’d have to walk home,” Paul explains.

Step 3, "If they are going to make people walk home, they should have a footpath all the way." Photo: Ian Campbell
Step 3, “If they are going to make people walk home, they should have a footpath all the way.” Photo: Ian Campbell

Paul arrived at the hospital with his partner five hours earlier via ambulance, they had no car, no way of getting home.

“We have lots of friends, but it was two o’clock in the morning, we didn’t want to impose on people,” he says.

“They [hospital satff] didn’t give me any other option but to walk home.”

No bed was offered, no ride home, just a blanket to guard against the early spring chill.

“I did say – I can’t walk home with angina,” Paul says.

None the less Paul and his partner were tossed out to walk the four and bit kilometres home to the Bega CBD.

“It was a bit scary because I got the pain back when we got down to Glebe Lagoon,” he says.

Paul laughs when he says,”If they are going to make people walk home than they should make sure there’s a footpath all the way.”

Step 4 - chest pains at Glebe Lagoon. Photo: Ian Campbell.
Step 4 – chest pains at Glebe Lagoon. Photo: Ian Campbell.

Thankfully Paul made it home and was able to see his doctor on the Wednesday.

“It was a chest infection, it’s all good now and I don’t have angina,” he says.

Before publishing Paul’s story I sought comment from the Southern NSW Local Health District.

This is a mistake I thought, people don’t get kicked out of hospital with a blanket at 2am and told to walk home after presenting with chest pains.

In seeking a response I had hoped the Health Service would say, “We are sorry this happened, it won’t happen again.”

After all, around the time of Paul’s experience, the Southern Health CEO and Board Chair were sacked by NSW Health Minister, Brad Hazzard,

The recommendations of the Health Minister’s review had started to be implemented.

A new manager at South East Regional Hospital (SERH) had started work.

The Health Minister and the Shadow Health Minister had both visited SERH since Paul walked home that night.

Things have changed is what the community is told. No, they haven’t is the impression I am left with.

Step 5. Photo: Ian Campbell
Step 5. Photo: Ian Campbell

My request for comment about Paul’s experience was referred to the NSW Health Transport Travel Support Group.

“We are able to perform transport during operational hours if we have capacity but being 2 am, there would have been no capacity,” they said.

“The problem is not that the hospital doesn’t provide transport, but rather that there is only one taxi in Bega and they won’t provide service after hours.

“In cases of hardship we would pay for transport home if there was any available,” the Travel Support Group says.

In my mind, the response fails to understand or address the care that was missing from Paul’s experience that night and undermines assurances that the management and operations at South East Regional Hospital have improved.

Step 6 - almost home. Photo: Ian Campbell
Step 6 – almost home. Photo: Ian Campbell

Where is the care and compassion we assume will be a part of a visit to any hospital?

How is it that people who were drawn to a caring profession are able to give a sick man a blanket for the walk home but not a bed for the night or a ride home?

Where is the understanding of the regional setting in which this facility operates?

Am I right in thinking the NSW Health Service just dumped on the Bega taxi service?

The Health Minister’s review of hospital operations pointed to the need for a cultural change within SERH – on this count the reform so far has failed.

The new Cheif Executive of Southern NSW Local Health District started work this week. Andrew Newton comes from a nursing background and on ABC radio this week spoke of his understanding and appreciation of small hospitals.

He spoke clearly, compassionately, and with knowledge, and recognised the need to retain and attract good staff. The community is hopefully his words translate into better health experiences.

Paul has made an official complaint about his piss-poor treatment, he is yet to receive a response or assurances it won’t happen to someone else.

In the meantime he hangs on to the blanket staff gave him on that cold, fearful night as proof of his hard to believe experience.


Earlier coverage from About Regional on this issue:

“Community rallies to fix hospital heartbreak.”

“Review of South East Regional Hospital on track.”