Paul, forced to walk home from hospital at 2am, told it won’t happen again

Step 4 - chest pains at Glebe Lagoon. Photo: Ian Campbell.
Paul had to stop after chest pains returned near Glebe Lagoon in Bega. Photo: Ian Campbell.

A Bega man who was told to walk home from South East Regional Hospital (SERH) at 2am says his confidence in the local health service has improved.

Paul’s outrageous story drew a strong response from the About Regional community when it was first published in late November.

He had already made an official complaint about his shoddy treatment but was yet to receive an explanation or apology. In the days that followed the publication of Paul’s story, he was invited to a meeting with new hospital chief, Wendy Hubbard.

“She apologised for what had happened and told me new systems were in place to stop it happening again,” Paul says.

Paul is not his real name. In sharing his story Paul didn’t want to embarrass friends and clients that work at the new facility and asked to remain anonymous. He did however want to see change and a better standard of care for the community that has been his home for 20 years.

It seems he has achieved that.

It opens Friday, December 15, the Carers and Relatives Accommodation at South East Regional Hospital in Bega. Photo: Ian Campbell
It opens Friday, December 15, the Carers and Relatives Accommodation at South East Regional Hospital in Bega. Photo: Ian Campbell

Paul’s story starts with chest pains after dinner one Sunday evening in early September, after a day of feeling funny he and his partner called for an ambulance.

After five hours in care, Paul was told he hadn’t had a heart attack but was suffering from angina. By that stage, the hospital clock was saying 1:30 am and with a diagnosis in hand, Paul was advised to see his GP as soon as possible.

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

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.

No other option was offered – no bed, 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.

During the four-kilometre walk home, Paul had to stop on the path at Glebe Lagoon when the chest pains returned.

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

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

When I initially published Paul’s story the Health Service pointed to the lack of a taxi service in Bega as being the issue.

“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,” the NSW Health Transport Travel Support Group said.

While accepting that transport is an issue across South East NSW, the community reaction to Paul’s story and the heartless government response has prompted a rethink from the Health Service, with many people reporting similar tales of being stranded by a system that seemed to not care or understand life in a country setting.

In a subsequent statement to About Regional, a spokesperson for Southern NSW Local Health District confirmed that in the future patients will be offered an overnight stay in the hospital to help manage transport issues.

“To avoid similar incidents arising in the future Emergency Department (ED) staff will be able to raise potential patient transport issues with the After Hours Nurse Manager,” a Health spokesperson said.

“[Staff] will talk to the patient and consider any options, including an offer to stay overnight.”

Furthermore, the spokesperson said, “On December 15 the SERH on-site Carers and Relatives Accommodation will be opened, which will provide a further option for people in a similar situation.”

Paul says he feels vindicated and trusts that this won’t happen again.

“I appreciated the apology Wendy offered and I got a sense she is working to make things better,” Paul says.

“It seems there was a lack of understanding by agency and locum staff on duty the night I arrived.”

Under new District Cheif Executive, Andrew Newton further operational and cultural changes have been flagged inline with the review initiated by the NSW Health Minister.

Confidence in the sparkling new facility and some of its staff has been shattered on the back of a raft of issues since the hospitals opening in early 2016.

A few finishing touches before Friday's grand opening of the Careers and Relatives Accommodation. Photo: Ian Campbell
A few finishing touches before Friday’s grand opening of the Careers and Relatives Accommodation. Photo: Ian Campbell

The Carers Accommodation that opens on Friday is perhaps an opportunity to reinvigorate people’s trust.

Like so many things, the construction of this building has been driven by community fundraising coordinated by Bega Valley service clubs but embraced by people and organistaions around South East NSW, as well as State and Federal Governments and big business.

An 18-bed facility for carers is the full vision, six motel style rooms with their own ensuite will open on Friday representing stages one and two.

The community is invited to look through the new building between 2 and 5pm.

Paul is not surprised that the community has stepped up the way it has around his story or how it has rallied around the need to build carers and relative accommodation for a hospital that services communities from Batemans Bay to Jindabyne to Mallacoota.

He hangs on to the blanket he was given on that cold September night as a reminder that systems and bureaucracy are meant to serve people.

*About Regional content happens because of the financial contributions of members, thank you to Snowy Monaro Regional Council, Geoff Berry, Tania Ward, Jill Howell and Max Wilson, Ingrid Mitchell and Deb Nave, Therese and Denis Wheatley, Bronnie Taylor, Fiona Firth, and Scott Halfpenny.