A one-year-old baby girl has died at a regional Victorian hospital which has been experiencing staff shortages, as the wider hospital system comes under strain from rising cases of Covid and other winter illnesses.
The baby died on Monday night at the University hospital in Geelong, which is managed by Barwon Health. The death has been referred to the coroner.
A physician connected to the hospital said the baby had Covid at the time of her death. The doctor said staff were deeply distressed by the death.
The hospital has confirmed the baby’s death but not the circumstances surrounding it or whether the child had Covid.
The doctor, who asked to remain anonymous, said there was ongoing frustration about pressures on the hospital system including staff shortages and bed shortages.
In a statement, Barwon Health chief medical officer, Dr Simon Woods, said: “Barwon Health extends its deepest sympathy and condolences to the child’s family and loved ones.”
“This is a difficult time for all concerned,” he said.
“We will review the child’s death in detail and assist the coroner as required. It is inappropriate to speculate on the circumstances of the death at this time.”
On Thursday, the director of emergency services at Barwon Health, Dr Belinda Hibble, told 3AW demand in emergency had been “building for the last couple of months in between escalating Covid-19 outbreaks” and that there were staff shortages.
Her comments followed reports of almost 12-hour wait times in the University hospital emergency department the night before.
“Last night was particularly challenging … certainly we’re seeing that across the state,” Hibble said. “We can see we are certainly having a rise in patients with Covid throughout the emergency system.”
Hibble said not only were Covid-19 and other viruses causing a spike in people presenting to the hospital, but they were also leading to staff shortages as healthcare workers also became unwell.
Safer Care Victoria, the peak body for improving healthcare standards, is also investigating the child’s death.
Senior Victorian government minister Ben Carroll described the child’s death as “tragic”.
“Our thoughts are with the family. Any death is a tragedy, particularly someone with their whole life ahead of them, I can only imagine what the parents are going through,” he told reporters on Friday.
“As details come to light, we’ll be sure to provide them.”
Carroll conceded it was a challenging time for the state’s health system. He said the government would be ramping up communications about mask use and vaccination given the growing number of Covid-19 infections in Victoria, as more transmissible Omicron subvariants spread in the community.
“We’re asking all Victorians to do the right thing. Have your vaccine, have your booster if you haven’t, but also mask up in those closed environments as well,” he said.
The Victorian Department of Health is formally notified of deaths through a number of different sources, including the Victorian Death Index, local public health units, the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, infection control centre VICNESS, and the coroner, so it can take time for deaths to be included in the daily deaths and ages breakdown provided by the government.
In May, a report by the Australian Medical Association revealed no jurisdiction is meeting their targets for getting patients out of ambulances and into the care of emergency department staff in a safe and acceptable timeframe.
The AMA national president, Dr Omar Khorshid, has previously said that this ambulance ramping means patients are not receiving timely care, and that paramedics can’t respond to new emergencies.
Additional reporting by Benita Kolovos