Human rights attorney says Miss T.’s health care system has failed and her family has a cause of complaint

The head of the National Justice Project said the mistakes that led to Miss T’s death in Kalgoorlie were some of the worst he has ever seen.

The 16-year-old Aboriginal girl was sent home from the hospital on Christmas Eve 2016 despite signs of infection.

She was found hours later by her sister, who was vomiting and twitching in septic shock, and died before an ambulance could arrive.

A coronial report was published late last year.

Human rights attorney George Newhouse said the system had failed, Miss T.

“Many Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders come to us for assistance when they have been ill-treated by the health system, but this is one of the worst I’ve seen,” said Mr. Newhouse.

Reasons for legal action

He said Miss T’s family have legal action against the WA Country Health Service (WACHS) and may be entitled to damages or compensation.

“Given the evidence I’ve seen and the results of the report, there appears to be a case against the WA Country Health Service,” he said.

George Newhouse has represented Aboriginal families who died in custody or in the health care system.(AAP: Paul Miller)

Mr Newhouse said the tragedy resembles that of Ms. Dhu, Naomi Williams and, more recently, Dougie Hampsen.

“We must face the truth so we can address the systemic issues of bias and prejudice in our health services as a nation,” he said.

Both the Minister of Health and WACHS declined interviews and issued statements in which they were aware of the results.

Mr. Newhouse said it wasn’t good enough.

“This is not the first time an Aboriginal person has died this way in WA, and it will not be the last time until the coroner’s findings are implemented.”

The coroner recommended that the Minister of Health establish a short-stay unit on the Kalgoorlie Health Campus and fund the availability of Aboriginal liaison officers around the clock.

Levels of racism in the system

Paul Stewart of the Lowitja Institute, the national institute for indigenous health research, said tragedies like this had an impact on the entire Aboriginal community.

Paul Stewart stands in front of a portrait
Paul Stewart wants the coroner’s recommendations to be implemented.(Delivered: Institut Lowitja)

He urged the Minister of Health to commit to the coroner’s recommendations.

“It is an opportunity for the WA government to really wonder if these recommendations need to be rolled out across the state so we don’t have another Miss T case in another regional city,” said Mr. Stewart.

However, he believes the recommendation of Aboriginal liaison officers is only part of the solution.

“We need to increase our workforce for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, but we also need to provide the broader health workforce with the proper education and training to ensure they provide quality care in a culturally safe manner,” he said.

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