WA government apologises over death of seven-year-old Aishwarya Aswath at Perth hospital

Aishwarya Aswath died at Perth Children's Hospital. Source: Supplied by Suresh Rajan.

The West Australian health minister has apologised to the parents of seven-year-old Aishwarya Aswath after she died at a Perth hospital emergency room, saying she should have had better care.

Western Australian Health Minister Roger Cook has publicly apologised to the family of Aishwarya Aswath, nearly six weeks after the seven-year-old girl died in the emergency room of Perth Children’s hospital.

Mr Cook said Aishwarya and her parents were “failed” by the health system when she was brought to the emergency department around 5pm on Saturday, 3 April after developing fever-like symptoms.

Her parents, Aswath Chavittupara and Prasitha Sasidharan, say they waited more than two hours to see a doctor, during which time her hands went cold and white patches formed on her eyes.

Her parents begged nurses for help on several occasions, but were ignored. Aishwarya reportedly died within 15 minutes of seeing a doctor.

Aishwarya's parents, Aswath Chavittupara and Prasitha Sasidharan.
Aishwarya's parents, Aswath Chavittupara and Prasitha Sasidharan.
SBS News/Aaron Fernandes

After her death, Child and Adolescent Health Services, the department that runs the hospital, began a root-cause analysis of what happened. They found she died from a bacterial infection related to group A streptococcus.

The review came with a public apology from the health minister, on behalf of the state government.

“I promised there would be a thorough and detailed examination. Today, that investigation, known as a root-cause analysis, has been delivered to the family. It is confronting and distressing reading,” Mr Cook said on Wednesday.

“What is clear is that Aishwarya and her parents should have had better care at our hospital. They did not get the help they asked for.

“I want to publicly apologise to them on behalf of the government. I’m sorry.”

However, the review found no individual was responsible for the lack of care Aishwarya received. Nor did it find that staffing shortages were a contributing factor to her treatment.

“The report has not found an individual culpable in relation to this issue. Staff work in very difficult circumstances, making difficult decisions many times a day,” Mr Cook said.

The health minister said the government would not release the full report publicly, and instead tabled its 11 recommendations in WA Parliament on Wednesday.

They include improvements to triage, a clear pathway for parents to escalate concerns, and a further root-cause analysis of the hospital's emergency department.

The report also recommended developing an established sepsis recognition tool, and a review of staff awareness of culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

Western Australia Health Minister Roger Cook  at Claremont Showgrounds in Perth, Monday, May 2, 2021.
Western Australia Health Minister Roger Cook at Claremont Showgrounds in Perth, Monday, May 2, 2021.

However, Mr Cook downplayed any potential race-related concerns.

"None that (the panel) spoke to believed that race played an issue in relation to the care of Aishwarya," he said.

CAHS board chair Deb Karasinski resigned on Wednesday, following the review.

But CAHS Chief Executive Dr Aresh Anwar said he had offered his resignation to the director general of the WA Health Department, but it was not accepted.

Neither Mr Cook nor Dr Anwar would answer questions or provide detail about any clinical failures in Aishwarya’s care.

“The aim of the report is not to ascribe blame, but to try and identify areas where we can improve,” Dr Anwar said.

Aishwarya’s parents are expected to comment publicly on the case on Thursday.

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