21 Apr 2015

Health worker decision defended

1:07 pm on 21 April 2015

The Health and Disability Commissioner is defending a decision not to release names of health workers involved in the case of a boy who died after routine surgery.

Matt Gunter

Matt Gunter Photo: Facebook

Matthew Gunter, who was 15 and healthy before his surgery, died of a brain injury caused by a fluid buildup in his lungs and other factors following an operation to have his appendix removed at Grey Base Hospital three years ago.

His mother, Heather Gunter, said the public had the right to know the names of the anaesthetist and two nurses involved, but Commissioner Anthony Hill's report on the case, while critical of how it was handled, names no names.

Mr Hill told Morning Report one of those involved is likely to face the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal (HPDT) and he has acted cautiously in case name suppression is granted.

"That tribunal does have the power to suppress names.

"I have named doctors previously at the conclusion of HPDT proceedings, and one of the reasons why we are cautious about naming before such a proceeding is that in fact that the tribunal may choose to issue a suppression order."

Mr Hill said if there were immediate concerns about the healthcare workers, appropriate authorities were quickly alerted.

Meanwhile, police in Greymouth have confirmed they are investigating the teenager's death.

A Tasman Police spokeswoman said this morning that police were investigating the death and were doing so before Commissioner Hill released his report.

'Waste of a young man's life'

Matt Gunter developed pulmonary oedema after having his appendix removed at Grey Base Hospital four days earlier.

However, it was not diagnosed and he suffered a cardiac arrest the day after his operation, leading to his death three days later.

Mr Hill's report criticises a locum anaethestist, two nurses and the West Coast District Health Board (DHB).

The report said Matt was a "fit, healthy" teenager whose surgery was uneventful.

However, soon after he stopped breathing and was treated for what was believed to be a spasm in his laryngeal cords.

He then suffered a coughing fit while still in the post-anaethesia care unit and coughed up blood - something the anaesthetist attributed to him having a tube down his throat to help him breath during the operation.

The levels of oxygen in his blood were also lower than they should have been.

Mr Hill said Matt was given oxygen before being transferred to the hospital's children's ward.

His oxygen levels were monitored until about 5am but he was not then checked until 6.30am, when he was found to be in cardiac arrest. He was resuscitated and later airlifted to Christchurch hospital, where he died three days later.

Mr Hill said in his report there were serious failings by the anaesthetist, two nurses - one of whom faces possible legal action - and the DHB.

Heather Gunter released a statement in which she said a lack of care after his operation was "the main contributing factor in his death".

"I have read every report that I was allowed to read regarding Matt's death two-and-a-half years ago and the conclusion has always remained the same.

"This was a totally avoidable death and a waste of a young man's life," she said.

"As I hugged my son, I will never forget the sound of his heartbeat slowing down before stopping forever.

"My heart broke that day too. I hope that no one ever has to go through what we have and I encourage all of you to feel empowered to ask questions as patients, family, nurses and doctors.

She said names of the staff involved should be made public.