In 2002 a little ten year old girl fell from a bunk bed whilst on holiday in Caloundra, Her name was Elise Neville. She later died in hospital from a severe brain bleed, her death changed the way Drs worked in Queensland and also changed the regulations around bunk beds in Queensland. Elise’s parents Gerard and Lorraine Neville felt very aggrieved by the Health system and felt that it had let them down.
The Neville family was on their annual holiday to Caloundra and two of the younger children were excited to be sleeping in bunk beds, Elise had the top bunk and in the night fell onto the hard tiled floor, she was taken to Caloundra hospital where there were two experienced RNs on duty and one relatively junior Dr, Dr Andrew Doneman. Caloundra Hospital had an unwritten policy that it did not admit children so when the Neville’s asked for Elise to be held for observation they refused and sent her home. Several hours later Elise had deteriorated markedly and was transferred by ambulance back to Caloundra Hospital, but by then it was too late. The lives of the Neville’s would be changed forever and Elise died the next day. Apart from that, one of the main issues that upset the Neville’s was the care factor.
They felt that the Dr on duty and the two nurses who were on duty when they brought Elise into Caloundra Hospital were uncaring and dismissive. Gerard is a Dr who works for Queensland Health. Elise’s story is heartbreaking, not just for the loss of a beautiful little girl who was just on holiday with her family and a family who has lost an integral part of their lives, but it highlighted how much our actions as nurses affect the people we come across in our day to day work. Innocent actions and harried staff often mean we don’t always treat people how we would want to be treated. On that fateful night in Caloundra in January 2002 Dr Doneman, who was a young fairly newly qualified Dr was nineteen hours into a twenty four hour shift. He was in charge of Caloundra hospital that night and working with the two RN’s when he initially sent Elise home. The Neville’s were dogged and tenacious in their determination to make sure Queensland Health was held accountable for what they are meant to do. They did not want any other family to experience the loss that they were feeling. When Gerard was asked for a photo of Elise he stated, “Here, I want every health professional in Queensland to stare into her eyes. Maybe it will cause them to search their conscience and appreciate what we are trying to do.” They were determined in their approach to make sure they were heard, and they were. Drs hours were changed and they no longer work a 24 hour shift and policies not based on clinical need reviewed. As professionals we should always reflect on our practice and remember that when we see patients it’s in their time of need, a need no greater than Elise Neville’s in January 2002 (you can read more of Elise’s story in “Sick to Death” by Hedley Thomas).