‘We lost our child’: parents of girl who died after wait at Perth hospital say system must change

The grieving parents of Aishwarya Aswath, who died from an infection after waiting for two hours at a Perth emergency department, say they were treated without compassion and have no doubt the seven-year-old would still be alive if their concerns had been addressed.

Aswath Chavittupara, 39, and Prasitha Sasidharan, 33, said on Thursday that an internal report into the Easter Saturday incident had raised more questions than it answers.

They renewed their call for an independent inquiry into their daughter’s death and other critical incidents at the Perth children’s hospital.

“We didn’t get the answers that we were looking for,” an emotional Chavittupara told reporters on Thursday. “We knew they would only look at some of the areas and ignore the rest. That’s why we’ve been pushing for an external inquiry.”

Aishwarya was taken to the $1.2bn hospital’s emergency department with a fever and triaged by staff in the second-least urgent category. Her parents pleaded for her to be assessed after her eyes became cloudy and her hands turned cold but were forced to wait for almost two hours. She died soon after she was finally seen.

A report by WA’s Child and Adolescent Health Services found Aishwarya died of sepsis after contracting an infection related to group A streptococcus.

The Mark McGowan government has ruled out an independent inquiry into her death while the health minister, Roger Cook, has fended off calls for his resignation.

At times struggling to speak, Chavittupara said on Thursday that Cook’s apology was “not good enough” and the system needed to change.

“Some of the staff were ignoring us … they didn’t even pass on the message to their superiors so they could decide,” he said. “We found the staff were a bit rude and we found that the level of humanity that they had was very low.”

Among the report’s recommendations was a review of staff awareness of culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

The family have questioned whether their ethnicity influenced their treatment and believe a systemic review is needed.

“If we can start connecting the dots, maybe we can find an answer there,” Chavittupara said.

The CAHS report made 11 recommendations which the government has agreed to implement at PCH within the next six months, including improvements to triage policy. An independent inquiry will also be held into the children’s hospital emergency department.

Aishwarya’s death followed months of concerns about understaffing, treatment delays and record ambulance ramping at Perth’s hospitals.

But the premier, Mark McGowan, said Cook had “done a very good job for over four years”.

“It is a big job, a big workload, a big system and to manage that entire workload is very difficult,” he told reporters. “We do have issues occur and this is clearly a big issue.”

The opposition health spokeswoman, Libby Mettam, said the health minister had his head in the sand about the state of the health system. “I’m not sure what report [he] was reading but the buck stops with him,” she said.

The AMA WA president, Dr Andrew Miller, echoed calls for Cook to resign, saying doctors had been warning for more than a year of emergency department overcrowding.

The government has accepted the resignation of the CAHS chair, Debbie Karasinski, who Miller described as a “sacrificial lamb”.

Aishwarya’s parents believe a lack of escalation, rather than a lack of staff, was the main issue.

The couple wants a new system to be implemented at the PCH emergency department, giving concerned parents the right to have their children’s care escalated and be seen within three minutes.

“We lost our child,” Sasidharan said. “This shouldn’t happen to anybody else.”

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