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Towels for pillow at Women’s and Children’s Hospital

A four-year-old boy who spent more than five hours at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital suffering severe gastroenteritis and dehydration was given towels to rest his head on due to a pillow shortage, the Opposition says.

May 02, 2023, updated May 02, 2023
The Opposition says a a four-year-old boy was given towels instead of a pillow at the Women's and Children's Hospital last month. Photo: Supplied

The Opposition says a a four-year-old boy was given towels instead of a pillow at the Women's and Children's Hospital last month. Photo: Supplied

According to the Opposition, the boy’s mother – who did not want to speak to media – described her son’s experience at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital on April 20 as “unexpected” and “disappointing”.

The mother told the Opposition that her four-year-old son was hospitalised for more than five hours after a GP suspected he was suffering a bowel obstruction or a twisted bowel. He was later found to be suffering severe gastroenteritis and dehydration.

The mother told the Opposition’s health spokesperson Ashton Hurn that a nurse searched for a pillow for about 20 minutes before returning and saying: “We just don’t have any”.

Hurn said the mother praised staff at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital, but described the shortage of bedding as “an ongoing issue”.

“This young boy’s mother has told us she can’t fault the care her child was given by doctors and nurses, but there’s clearly a breakdown in our hospital system if staff can’t give sick children a pillow,” Hurn said.

“It must be incredibly distressing taking your child to hospital, only to find there aren’t the basic supplies to make them comfortable when they’re sick and in pain.”

Hurn said until recently, the Opposition hadn’t heard of a pillow shortage at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

But a Women’s and Children’s Hospital spokesperson said the hospital had no record of a pillow shortage over the last month.

They said the hospital’s emergency department had “ample supply” of pillows on April 20.

“We apologise to the family who presented that evening and experienced this,” the spokesperson said.

“We are making it a priority to address this issue with our staff and remind them of the ongoing stock available in the ED stock room to ensure this does not happen again.”

The Women’s and Children’s Hospital in North Adelaide. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

It comes after the state government in March launched an audit of hospital pillow and blanket stocks following multiple patient complaints, including a reported case of a 93-year-old man who went almost a day without a pillow at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH).

The government said that audit found “sufficient supplies” of pillows were available across hospitals, however work was needed to ensure they got to where they needed to go.

In response, the government asked local health network managers to improve their systems for distributing bedding.

SA Health has an ordering system in place to ensure stock is replenished, with ongoing checks now occurring.

An extra order of 100 pillows was made and delivered last month.

The Opposition in March moved a no-confidence motion in Health Minister Chris Picton over the pillow shortage, increasing ambulance ramping and a cochlear implant bungle at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital, but that motion was defeated along party lines.

Opposition Leader David Speirs today said that despite assurances from the government that pillows were available, “sick patients and their families are telling us otherwise”.

He described the photo of the boy resting his head on towels as “shocking” and “upsetting”.

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“When a worried parent rushes their sick child to hospital, the last thing they should be concerned about is something as simple as a pillow,” he said.

“This is a complete failure of the procurement process and the management of these hospitals.

“(Premier) Peter Malinauskas needs to step up and sort this out.”

Malinauskas today said he hadn’t received any advice about a pillow shortage at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

He said the government had put “a lot of effort” into making sure that those responsible for supplying public hospitals with linen were fulfilling their obligations.

“When we saw an issue at the QEH a few weeks ago we had the Health Minister go down personally to inspect to make sure that everything was there in the way it’s supposed to be and I understand that was the case,” the Premier said.

Health Minister Chris Picton said patients deserved to be provided with pillows in hospitals.

He said he had asked the Women’s and Children’s Hospital Network to urgently investigate the case, speak to the family and staff who were on shift, and to implement measures to improve patient outcomes.

“That is why I asked all Local Health Networks to undertake an urgent audit of pillow and blankets, which I fully released publicly last month,” he said.

“Hospital management reported at the time that the Women’s and Children’s Hospital had ‘sufficient stock currently available across WCHN to meet patient needs within the emergency department and inpatient wards, with stock on hand’ with ‘543 pillows in stock with a total of 30 pillows on order’.

“The report also said: ‘WCHN Executive will monitor this situation to ensure all areas of the hospital continue to have sufficient supplies with a pillow and blanket available for every bed at all times’.

“Our doctors, nurses and staff in hospitals work incredibly hard and strive to provide the best outcomes for patients every day. Where there are issues that occur we need to find out what has happened and how it can improve for the next patients.”

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