ABHORRENT, disgraceful and disgusting.
These are the words a Gympie woman this week used to describe the treatment of about 80 elderly men and women who lined up for eye surgery in Gympie last week under a state health initiative to reduce surgical waiting times by putting people through the private sector.
So distressed was the Gympie daughter-in-law of an 87-year-old woman who had eye surgery under the plan that she has written to Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.
Health Minister Cameron Dick has promised to have the claims investigated by the Health Ombudsman.
"My mother-in-law received a phone call out of the blue that she had an appointment at the Gympie Specialists Centre to examine her eyes and confirm that surgery was necessary," Palms resident Donna Frost told The Gympie Times and the Premier this week.
"What we saw when we arrived was absolutely disgusting," she said. "There were 80-100 people, all elderly, waiting to see this one doctor.
"There was seating for approximately 50 people. Before (my mother-in-law) could see the doctor a four-page form had to be filled out and handed to reception and then she was placed into a queue.
"The majority of these patients couldn't even fill their forms out (as they had eye problems) but until this form was completed, they didn't get into the queue. I helped a few people who were struggling with their forms fill them out, otherwise they would probably still be sitting there.
"I asked the nurses about this, and they said they just didn't have time to assist them with the forms."
Mrs Frost said the nurses were "wonderful and worked off their feet", but could not cope with the sheer number of people, many who had travelled from the Sunshine Coast for their appointment.
"We were there for over five hours," she said.
"At no time was water or some kind of hydration offered to the patients waiting. Many were standing outside for hours as there was no room inside."
After seeing the doctor at 5pm they were told to return for surgery the next day.
What they saw when they arrived at the Gympie Private Hospital "was unbelievable," Mrs Frost said.
"Up to 30 people were there when we arrived," she said.
"It took three hours before 'N' (Mrs Frost's mother-in-law) was taken in to receive the first of a series of eye drops before surgery.
"We waited, like many of these poor elderly people, for hours and hours. Finally the surgery was done (on one eye).
"We drove back to Maroochydore that night. 'N' was in a lot of pain. There wasn't any post-operative instructions to deal with pain. Only to put drops in her eye the next morning.
"At 11pm I rang the emergency after hours number, only to be told to leave a message. I waited 10 minutes and still no one returned my call. I then phoned again only to be told to leave a message. 'N' was in extreme pain by this time.
"I then rang the Gympie Private Hospital and they said that they were not responsible for the eye patients and to ring the emergency number on the form. She was advised to take Panadol. I never received a phone call back from the emergency number."
"Saturday morning, on waking, 'N' was vomiting and very weak. Her blood pressure had gone up. I phoned the emergency number again, and was told again, to leave a message, they never phoned back.
"I phoned the hospital again, and was told to bring her up then. This was at 9am. We all drove back to Gympie, 'N' was taken in and had her blood pressure tested and was given something for the nausea. This was at 10.30am. They advised us not to wait, so we came home to my house in Gympie and waited."
When 'N' returned for her post-op check the next day there were about 60 people waiting.
"Now, besides the lack of humanity shown to these elderly patients, what has really riled me is that operations were being performed on both eyes (for) many patients, whether they were needed or not. (I found this out by talking to some of them).
"I was told by a staff member at the hospital that (the doctor) had brought his staff down and that he had over 2500 surgeries to perform.
"The ironic thing is that apparently he had to have these done by June, or else his contract would not be filled.
"We were told that if he didn't have them done by then, the Labor Government would not fulfil Campbell Newman's promise.
"I find it abhorrent that all these elderly people were not given proper care whilst at the hospital with regards to hydration, were not given access to any emergency help after hours, and that they were made to wait for five to six hours for three days in a row.
"I'm sure if the public know how Campbell Newman's promise was being filled they too would be horrified."
Pulse Health, under which the Gympie Specialist Centre and Gympie Private Hospital operate, was sent a copy of the letter and offered the opportunity to respond but had not done so at time of print last night.
Minister passes complaint on to the Health Ombudsman
QUEENSLAND Health Minister Cameron Dick said yesterday he was concerned about the alleged poor treatment of large numbers of elderly patients waiting for eye surgery in Gympie this month.
"I find these allegations very concerning and I thank The Gympie Times for bringing this to my attention," he said.
"All patients deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.
"A number of people, including clinical staff, have raised concerns about how health services were contracted and delivered by the former government.
"I have asked the department to ensure this feedback will be taken into account when planning future activities of this kind.
"I have also passed on the complaint to the Health Ombudsman to investigate.
"Anyone with concerns about the quality of health services - public or private - should lodge a complaint with Health Ombudsman."
The Health Ombudsman can be contacted on 133 OHO (133 646) or http://www.oho.qld.gov.au