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The flu can be deadly – Early medical advice and speaking up is critical

Preparing for the flu

Bill King Written by:
Bill King
Special Counsel

At a time of the year when Australians are battling the worst flu season in years and families are tragically grieving the loss of loved ones from flu and its complications, it is important to be pro-active if you, your family members, or someone you care for, becomes unwell with flu-like symptoms.

Many of the deaths and complications from the flu are preventable.

If you or someone you care for does become unwell, there are things you can do to help your health care provider reduce your risk of complications and harm from the flu.

Firstly, it is important to seek medical advice as early as possible from either a GP, hospital, or other medical practitioner. There are various treatments for the flu that are available, including anti-viral medications. If given early enough, some of these treatments can lessen the duration and severity of the flu and reduce the risk of developing complications.

Secondly, it is very important to speak up and inform your health care providers if you feel your condition or the condition of a family member or someone you care for has deteriorated or changed for the worse. This includes situations where care is being provided as an inpatient in a health care facility.

Individuals receiving health care in Australia have a variety of rights under the Australian Charter of Healthcare Rights. Those rights include a right to comment on health care and have any concerns addressed.

You can read more about your rights at: https://www.safetyandquality.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/A-guide-for-patients-consumers-carers-and-families-v3.pdf.

In addition to the Charter, public hospital systems in a number of Australian States and Territories have introduced policies and guidelines entitling patients and their families and carers to request second opinions relating to their medical care.

In Queensland, the policy is called Ryan’s Rule. The policy is so named in acknowledgement of Ryan Saunders who was nearly three years old when he tragically died in hospital. His death was found to be in all likelihood preventable. Staff did not know Ryan as well as his mum and dad knew him. When Ryan’s parents were worried he was getting worse they didn’t feel their concerns were acted on in time.

Ryan’s Rule is a three step process to support patients (of any age), their families or carers, to raise concerns if a patient’s health condition is getting worse or not improving as expected resulting in a response to concerns. Ryan’s Rule applies to all patients admitted to a Queensland Health Public Hospital and in some Hospital in the Home (HITH) services. You can read more about Ryan’s Rule here.

In NSW, the REACH system encourages appropriate care of deteriorating patients by encouraging patients and family to ‘put their hands in the air’ to signal they need help. You can read more about the REACH program here.

In Victoria and WA, patients can ask to speak to patient liaison officers at individual hospitals to escalate their own or family members’ care.

In South Australia, public hospitals are required to have policies in place to enable patients, their family members and friends to initiate an escalation of care response to ensure appropriate recognition and responses are made to clinical deterioration. You can read more about that here.  There is also an ongoing push in South Australia to introduce a policy similar to Ryan’s Rule in that state, and this was recommended by the coronial findings that were released in June this year following the tragic death of Leila Baartse-Harkin in 2015.

In the ACT, Canberra Hospital has a Patient and Family Escalation Process and Call and Respond Early (CARE) for Patient Safety Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), which provides guidelines for patients and their family/carers to escalate their concerns if they feel these are not being responded to by the clinicians on the ward.

Finally, if you have concerns that you or someone you care for has been harmed or that you have lost a loved one because of a failure on the part of a health care provider or hospital to recognise and act on deterioration in a patient’s condition in a timely manner, you should seek legal advice on your position as early as possible as time limits apply.

Written by Bill King on . Last modified: September 7, 2017.

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