SA woman forced to fly almost 600km from home for surgery

A South Australian woman who fell and broke her leg had to be transferred to a hospital almost 600 kilometres away for surgery after being told none of the hospitals close by could accommodate her.

Marilyn Hicks, 70, and her family run a pub at Ardrossan on the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia.

Mrs Hicks was vacuuming at work when she fell down, breaking bones in both her legs.

“It [the vacuum] needed emptying and it’s one of those big commercial things so I took it outside,” she said.

“I remember picking it up and that’s it. I must have fallen down the two steps.”

The break in Mrs Hicks’s left leg needed a steel plate.

A day-and-a-half after her fall, staff at the nearby Maitland Hospital told Mrs Hicks she would be flown to Mount Gambier, almost 600 kilometres away, for her surgery.

“They said they’d tried Port Pirie, Port Augusta and of course Adelaide, but nowhere else could accommodate me,” Mrs Hicks said.

Her daughter, Cindy Hicks, at first thought her mother was joking.

“I said ‘you’re kidding aren’t you, you’re joking’, because you know, she sometimes jokes,” Ms Hicks said.

“But mum said ‘no, I’m leaving now’.”

While Mrs Hicks said the public health system had treated her well, she was concerned by the cost of her surgery even though it would be covered by WorkcCover.

“I hate to think how much it cost, both taxpayers and in terms of frustrations to the family,” she said.

Opposition Health spokesman Stephen Wade said it was evidence of Labor mismanagement.

“If you manage the system properly in the first place, you don’t have to airlift somebody at the cost of $1,500, 500 kilometres away,” Mr Wade said.

“It’s a bizarre misunderstanding of what it takes to run a good health system.”

Country Health SA chief Rebecca Graham said Mount Gambier was the best choice because Mrs Hicks’s break was complicated and the hospitals in Adelaide were full.

“Adelaide is the first port of call, but this was complicated surgery and there’s only a few places that can do it,” Ms Graham said.

“So for us we needed to look for alternatives and I’m really pleased about the way our staff worked with RFDS (Royal Flying Doctor Service) together with our different sites to get her to the right level of surgery as quickly as possible.”

Patient spent nine days alone after surgery

The family’s frustrations were further compounded by the amount of time Mrs Hicks spent in Mount Gambier alone.

Initially told it would be an overnight stay once the operation was done, Mrs Hicks ended up spending nine nights in Mount Gambier.

“I had $25 on my person, my mobile phone went flat soon after I got there, no charger and a nightie and a brunch coat, oh and a toothbrush,” she said.

Mrs Hicks told her family not to make the seven-hour drive from Ardrossan to Mount Gambier, meaning despite the good care, she was essentially alone.

“It wasn’t very nice … nothing takes the place of family,” Mrs Hicks said.

Ms Hicks said that was an unreasonable burden on her mum.

“She is a tough old thing, but this was when she was really vulnerable,” Ms Hicks said.

“It’s hard when you just want to be there for your mum and help her, but you can’t because it’s so far away.”

Mrs Hicks’s family had to arrange her flight back to Adelaide through a commercial airline once she was discharged from Mount Gambier.

“No-one could tell me whether there’d be a lift to get the wheelchair off the plane back in Adelaide,” Mrs Hicks said.

“But I thought well if the worst comes, I’ll just call triple-0 and tell them there’s an old chook in a wheelchair in the middle of the runway, someone would come and get me then!”

Mrs Hicks believes her case is one of first-class health treatment hiding second-class health administration.

“It’s a mess, a really big mess,” she said.