MIKE SMITHSON: Botched due dates for pregnant women another bungle in a long line from SA Health

Mike Smithson
The Nightly
The due dates for about 1700 pregnant women have been miscalculated.
The due dates for about 1700 pregnant women have been miscalculated. Credit: BazziBa - stock.adobe.com

A public health system medical bungle has left 1700 pregnant women shell-shocked.

That’s enough to put anyone on edge.

Details have emerged in South Australia of a major stuff-up with electronic medical records (eMR) which has given expectant mums a miscalculation of their due dates.

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The unforgivable bungle stretches over an eight-month period to June, with all hands now on deck to ensure those affected are informed of the error.

Those still waiting for their delivery day to arrive have been tracked down first but, as of late last week, many of the newest mums are yet to be informed.

The problem was first identified in March, but no one in SA Health publicly revealed the mistake during a departmental investigation.

A contrite SA Health boss has been at pains to explain that no patients have been adversely affected by the error, with the dates out by just a few days.

Even so, planned caesarean sections could have been affected and induced pregnancies may have been able to run full-term had the mistakes never occurred.

It’s been more of a collective sigh of relief in the health corridors of power than a full-blown apology.

I suspect no-one was leaping out of their skin to own up to the electronic record malfunction from the outset, as it follows similar mistakes which became full-scale scandals over the past decade.

Confidence hit a new low when it was discovered 54 cochlear implants had been incorrectly programmed leading to hearing and developmental delays in children.

The problem saw degrees of severity over a long period, but some are expected to have lifelong problems.

It has quite rightly forced SA taxpayers to fork out $50,000 to 45 affected families who attended the Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

Another 94 families at the minor end of the scale received a $5000 ex-gratia compensation package.

The total compo bill has topped $3 million.

Families who have young children with severe hearing loss can still pursue more compensation through the courts.

Initially and more disturbingly, health officials resisted investigating the concerns raised by an audiologist and concerned families about their cochlear irregularities.

Before that, in 2014, a public health chemotherapy bungle also caused furore in SA.

Bad hospital protocols led to under-dosing of cancer patients, with the deputy state coroner finding four had died due to their incorrect chemotherapy treatment.

During an emotional inquest, one of the survivors described the clinicians as “cowboys”.

Governance problems yet again.

The SA Health system is in a mess as the winter chill bites hard.

Many elective surgeries have been cancelled for weeks adding to a massive backlog which never gets shorter.

When a medical ‘code yellow’ was announced, leading to elective surgery cancellations, it was another clear sign that our facilities were overcrowded and could barely cope.

Taxpayers were told it was a temporary measure with COVID and flu hospital admissions putting a difficult strain on the entire public system.

We were told that bans were temporary and would be monitored daily.

The promise back then was to lift restrictions immediately, once the squeeze was eased.

That was in May and not much has changed, with only a few of the more urgent surgeries returning.

The latest pregnancy monitoring bungle is another example of expensive technology being fallible.

In the scheme of things, it probably pales by comparison to other bungles and problems within the system but it further dents the confidence of an already highly suspicious public.

Over-worked clinicians are leaving the public system in droves for their own sanity.

An independent investigation is promised by the Health Minister into the latest bungle and findings will be made public.

Before the first witness statement is even taken, you can bet a mea culpa conclusion and a promise to do much better in the future.

There might even be some more compensation dollars tossed around.

But if there’s any whiff of a cover-up, or if an unexplained birthing problem now arises, you can also bet a tsunami of angry backlash.

Accurate health information involving pregnant women is sacrosanct and must not be brushed off or taken lightly.

So far, there seems to be a hint of both.

Mike Smithson is chief reporter and presenter for 7NEWS Adelaide.

He’s covered the chemotherapy and cochlear implant bungles from the outset.

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