Mackay Base Hospital. Picture: Tony Martin
Mackay Base Hospital. Picture: Tony Martin

Grandma seeks $3.8m from health care providers over death

UPDATE: A NEGLIGENCE case against Mackay Hospital and Health Service did not go ahead to trial today as listed. 

The case was adjourned until Friday. It is understood there are possible negotiations going on in the background to settle the matter out of court. 

INITIAL: A GRANDMOTHER is suing health care providers for almost $4 million over her daughter's death to secure enough money for her autistic grandson's care in the future.

Marie Wendy Hetherington, acting as a litigant guardian for her teenage grandson, argues the Mackay Hospital and Health Service together with the Mater Private After Hours Service and relevant doctors were negligent in their duty of care toward her daughter.

Jodie Marie Hart died on June 16, 2013, aged 32.

Documents before Mackay Supreme Court say she was a single mother and drug user receiving Centrelink before she died.

The original claim, filed in November 2017, sought $3,884,000 damages for alleged negligence from MHHS, MPAHS and doctor Rehaan Shah as well as alleged breach of contract against the Mater service.

All three have lodged documents defending their actions and denying many of the assertions Ms Hetherington's lawyers have made.

An ambulance took Ms Hart to Mackay Base Hospital at 1.38am on June 10, 2013.

She complained she had suffered migraines and vomiting for three days, had mild photophobia and was agitated.

Ms Hart told doctors she had a history of drug use and had taken speed in the past seven to nine days, noting she had suffered stress from family and health issues.

Staff took her vital signs, a blood sample and treated her with intravenous anti-nausea drugs.

A claim before Mackay Supreme Court alleges a mother’s intravenous drug use put her at a higher risk of developing a serious bacterial infection.
A claim before Mackay Supreme Court alleges a mother’s intravenous drug use put her at a higher risk of developing a serious bacterial infection.

Documents state Ms Hart reported feeling better and she was discharged from the emergency department at 5.15am.

Ms Hetherington's claim argued MHHS should have reached the conclusion Ms Hart was at a substantially increased risk of acquiring a serious bacterial infection, in particular, a serious staphylococcal infection because she was an intravenous drug user.

The court documents argue she was a substantial risk of death or permanent disability because of such an infection and therefore Ms Hart's blood test results should have been reviewed and assessed before her discharge "to ascertain if there were markers for inflammation which would have suggested the presence of infection".

The court documents assert she had a lung infection when she was discharged and that she never recovered from the condition she was experiencing.

MHHS disputes those assertions.

Mackay Base Hospital will fight many of the assertions made in a law suit it is defending. Picture: Tony Martin
Mackay Base Hospital will fight many of the assertions made in a law suit it is defending. Picture: Tony Martin

Ms Hart would later head to Mater Private to see a GP on duty there just before 5pm that same day.

She told the doctor she had just found out her mother had cancer and had since experienced pain, headaches, nausea and anxiety - also noting she had injected speed a week prior.

The doctor requested pathology and gave her an injection to stop nausea as well as two prescriptions.

"Over the course of the following days Ms Hart continued to be unwell and her condition deteriorated," court documents read.

"On or about June 16, 2013, Ms Hart was taken by ambulance to the emergency department of Mackay Base Hospital, arriving about 1.30pm.

"She was admitted to the intensive care unit and died about 10.10pm.

"The cause of Ms Hart's death was septicaemia due to or as a consequence of aspiration pneumonia, more particularly, refractory septic shock with multiple organ failure caused by staphylococcal lung abscesses and staphylococcal septicaemia."

Ms Hart's mother claims MHHS owed a duty to Ms Hart to take reasonable care in the provision of medical services to her including diagnosis, investigation and treatment.

She also claims Mater's after hours service and her treating doctor there owed a duty to Ms Hart to take reasonable care and exercise due care and skill in providing medical services - an allegation Mater is defending.

"The prospect of an infection should have been ruled out before she was discharged," the claim asserted.

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Ms Hetherington's lawyers argued the blood test results showed markers for inflammation in the white cell count and the neutrophil count as well as markedly elevated C-reactive protein level suggesting infection.

They argue the logical next step would be a chest x-ray "where this would more probably than not have shown changes consistent with staphylococcal lung infection" and urinalysis "where this would more probably than not have indicated similar abnormal findings which would have been further indication of inflammation or infection".

Ms Hetherington claims her daughter should have been admitted to the hospital and intravenous antibiotics should have been administered.

Ms Hart's mother claims "it is more probable than not that Ms Hart would not have died and would have recovered" if MHHS had reviewed the blood results and diagnosed her with an infection and if the Mater had taken a complete history and properly investigated the cause of her symptoms.

MHHS, in its initial affidavit tendered to the court, alleged Ms Hart's intravenous drug use had previously directly caused a life-threatening condition that led to cardiothoracic surgery to save her life in Townsville seven months before she died.

Health service lawyers say she was told ongoing intravenous drug use would place her at substantial risk of acquiring further serious and life-threatening bacterial infections.

MHHS say Ms Hart, despite the warnings, continued to "indulge in the habit of intravenous drug use and/or continued to take illicit drugs, namely speed, including at a time seven to nine days prior to her admission to the hospital on June 10, 2103 … and at a time between her discharge on June 10 and her death on June 16".

The service says Ms Hart also failed to seek further medical treatment after June 11, contrary to the urging of her friends and family, and instead self-administered speed before she returned for treatment on June 16.

In initial court documents, the hospital admits the cause of death was septicaemia due to or as a consequence of aspiration pneumonia but says the cause of the aspiration was the self-administered rapidly metabolised recreational drug (speed) after the June 10 consultation.

But Ms Hetherington claims MHHS should have known from that previous history that Ms Hart was at an increased risk of suffering from a serious infection and should not have been discharged until the blood test results from the sample taken on June 10, 2013 were reviewed "so that if they showed markers for inflammation and or infection, she could then be treated appropriately".

MHHS denies Ms Hart's death was caused by a wrongful act or omission and that she would have been entitled to recover damagers for personal injuries if she had survived.

Three years after Ms Hart died, her son was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

Documents before the court say he will require huge amounts of extra care for his condition as both a child and as an adult; care he allegedly would have received from his mother if she remained alive.

The case is listed for trial on Wednesday before Justice David North in Mackay Supreme Court.


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