The family of an Aboriginal man who died in custody of a suspected paracetamol overdose, are calling for prison inmates to be given the same medical treatment as members of the public.
Twenty-five-year-old Wonnarua man, Danny Whitton, died of multiple organ failure at the Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney on November 9, 2015, four days after he was transferred from his cell at the Junee Correctional Facility in central NSW.
At a coronial inquest into his death this week, his cellmate at the time –given the pseudonym, Mr C– gave evidence and said days before his death, Mr Whitton complained of vomiting, severe stomach pain and was passing blood in his urine.
“He told me he was pissing blood,” Mr C told the inquest.
“For a couple of days there he wasn’t doing anything. He was just in bed."
On the morning of November 5, another inmate – given the pseudonym, Mr A – alleged that he saw Mr Whitton sitting at the bottom of a flight of stairs, slumped to the side and looking “very, very sick”.
“His whole body was yellow,” Mr A told the inquest.
“He couldn’t really move or talk … I asked him if he was alright, felt alright – he couldn’t really answer.
“I asked the officers if they could come and help him. I said ‘he needs help’. They basically just said ‘yeah mate, whatever’, dismissed it.”
Mr A alleged that he asked prison medical staff to help Mr Whitton, but no one attended to him until an hour and a half later.
On the afternoon of November 5, Mr Whitton was admitted to the prison medical ward after an earlier attempt in the morning when he was told by medical staff to drink water and return at 1.30pm.
On November 7, he was taken by ambulance to Wagga Wagga Base Hospital where he was moved to intensive care.
On November 8, he was airlifted to the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney. He died the next day.
Family calls for better healthcare for inmates
Outside of court on Friday, Mr Whitton’s sister, Nikita House, said her brother should have been given the same medical treatment as any other person.
“We have learnt that so much more could have been done and offered to our Danny boy, while he was in prison,” said Ms House.
“He had the right to healthcare, just like every other single person in custody, if that care had been given to Danny, we believe our boy would still be with us here today.”
Representing Mr Whitton’s family, solicitor, Steven Reese from the NSW Aboriginal Legal Service, said the delay of an inquest being held had the ability to compromise the integrity of the inquest’s outcome.
“The reason for the delay in this inquest is unclear, but it is correct that any delay means that people’s memories of events are affected,” said Mr Reese.
“While Danny Whitton was held in custody, the prison system was accountable for healthcare, safety and well-being.
The system failed Danny and he lost his life.”
The inquest was due to conclude on Friday, however, more evidence will be given by witnesses.
A future date for the inquest is yet to be determined.