Premature baby’s critical surgery cancelled due to budget cuts at Adelaide hospital, mother says



Critical surgery for a baby’s life-threatening condition had to be cancelled at the eleventh hour because the Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Adelaide did not have the budget to staff an intensive care bed for the infant, her mother says.

Emma Bone’s 10-month-old daughter Willow was born at 28 weeks and has ongoing health issues, including being fed through a tube.

“Her problem is she aspirates her fluid, so it sits in her lungs and causes her to stop breathing which she sort of does on a daily basis, she goes unconscious, she goes blue, she goes floppy,” Ms Bone told ABC Radio Adelaide.

“It can last from 30 seconds to three minutes and she’s needed quite a lot of assistance in hospital with these episodes.

“We’ve been here [at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital] for about five weeks now waiting for tests to come back and we’ve now been given the go-ahead for surgery which unfortunately got cancelled.”

A baby named Willow sleeps in a crib with a pink blanket over her
Ten-month-old Willow was born premature and has ongoing health issues.(Supplied: Emma Bone)

Ms Bone and her husband also have a three-year-old daughter and the family travelled from Kimba on the Eyre Peninsula to Adelaide for special care for Willow who cannot leave the hospital until she has the surgery and recovers.

Ms Bone said after preparing for surgery on Thursday, which included fasting, it was cancelled at the last minute.

“We prepared ourselves that she was undergoing what they say is quite a serious surgery and she would be having a stay in an intensive care unit afterwards, so we arrived, we were told there was a chance it may not be happening because of the shortage of HDU [high-dependency unit] beds,” Ms Bone said.

‘We’d had no contact from anyone’

A baby named Willow looks up at the camera while standing on a man's lap
The Bone family just wants to take baby Willow home.(Supplied: Emma Bone)

Ms Bone said they waited for several hours and were told they had a bed and their daughter was next in line for surgery, but they were left waiting and were eventually told it wasn’t going ahead.

“They’d been trying to page doctors all day to see what was going on as Willow had fasted from 3:30 that morning, she’d had bloods the day before to prepare in case she needed blood in surgery, she was exhausted.

“We were told that she was one of the most urgent cases on the list and, yeah, we were quite shocked that it didn’t happen sooner.”

Mother says staff blamed budget cuts

Ms Bone said the surgeon and unit manager told her that budget cuts were to blame.

“They sort of came in and he said everything was a go, the theatre was ready, the surgeons were ready, the bed was ready, it was because they didn’t have the budget to staff the bed in the HDU, that’s why she couldn’t have her surgery,” Ms Bone said.

“He said he was happy to put his hand up and tell us that it’s been ongoing, he told us that if he could, he would come in on Monday on a public holiday to operate on her if there was somewhere for her to go afterwards.

A woman sits on a bed with two children in her lap.
Emma Bone says her family has been in hospital for five weeks waiting for surgery.(Supplied: Emma Bone)

Ms Bone said Willow would be put on an emergency surgery list on Tuesday, after the long weekend, and would need to fast every morning until they found out when the surgery would go ahead.

“As she did yesterday, she’ll fast every morning from 3:00am until they say, ‘Yes or no’, and if they come in on Tuesday and say, ‘No’, then she’ll be fed and then on Wednesday if they say, ‘No’, then it’ll just continue until they have that space or that staffing for her in the HDU,” Ms Bone said.

“She’s exhausted, she’s over being in hospital, she’s spent a lot of time in hospital and so have we.

“We just want to be home and we want her to be safe and I suppose that’s the hard part, we can’t even take her from the hospital because she’s not safe, she can’t leave until she has this surgery.

“So the fact that we’re waiting on a surgery and we don’t know when it’s going to happen makes it very hard to trust in our healthcare system.”

‘This was not about budgets or money’

Interim chief operating officer at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital, Jane Jennings, said the cancellation of surgeries occurs on rare occasions.

“Our intensive care unit was extremely busy, and we had emergency presentations and children requiring that care,” she said.

“We had to carefully consider what was the best situation for all children and that meant that we had to reschedule Willow’s surgery.”

She disputed the claims the incident was due to budget cuts, but more to do with prioritising care for children.

“This was not about budgets or money, this was about ensuring we provide safe, appropriate care for all our children,” she said.

“The staffing levels are within the enterprise agreement and there are times in all hospitals where activity is really busy and you have to triage and allocate your resources appropriately.”

She said the hospital expected to be able to provide Willow’s surgery next Tuesday, but admitted she could not guarantee that.

SA Health has been contacted for comment, however, Premier Steven Marshall this morning said the government had increased the budget to the women’s and children’s hospital since it came to government.


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