The mother of an Indigenous woman who died of a treatable infection at a hospital in rural NSW has told a coroner’s court that her daughter was treated as though she was “invisible” to the health system.
Naomi Williams was six months pregnant when she presented at the emergency department of Tumut District Hospital in the early hours of New Year’s Day 2016.
Nurses gave her paracetamol and allowed her to go home after 34 minutes.
Her condition then worsened and 15 hours later she died from a bacterial infection (meningococcal) and blood poisoning (sepsis).
Nursing experts told the inquest that Ms Williams should have been seen by a doctor.
Ms Williams had previously visited the same hospital 18 times in seven months and her pregnancy had been identified as high-risk.
“I lost my beloved only daughter and grandson,” Naomi’s mother Sharon Williams said.
“The system let my daughter down. I know that, she knew that and our family know that as well.”
The NSW Coroners Court has examined if racial discrimination in the health system played a part in the treatment Ms Williams received before she died.
“My daughter was sick for a long time," her mother said. "No one listened to her and no one helped her.
“Naomi’s story is not an isolated experience. There is a wealth of literature and research to support this shameful reality.
"Racism, discrimination and culturally unsafe practice is a common reality.”
Throughout the inquest, Ms Williams’ family said they have repeatedly endured the “trauma of that fateful day”. Her mother said they were driven by yindyamarra – a Wiradjuri word meaning respect and honour.
“We do not want Naomi to have died in vain,” she said.
“Her life meant the world to us and our worlds have been forever changed. We hope that her death can save others from the same tragedy that she met.”
In court on Thursday, deputy state coroner Harriet Grahame asked: “How hard is it to unpack a perception of poor service as being related to Aboriginality?
“For example, in this particular case, Naomi Williams went to the doctors many, many times and never got a specialist referral.
“If I look at my own experience as a middle-class woman in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, my perception is that I would've got a referral.”
Yin Paradies, a race relations professor from Deakin University, told the court that hospitals generally held implicit bias, which meant Indigenous patients received poorer healthcare.
“There is a strong correlation between treatment and Aboriginality,” he said.
“There is evidence of stereotyping Indigenous people as more likely to use drugs and alcohol, and so that sort of stereotype is very likely to be present in the minds of many Australians, given its pervasiveness.”