An urgent investigation has been launched after a critically-ill 92-year-old man was told there were no intensive-care beds available in the entire state, despite NSW Health later saying there were. Arthur Boneham was rushed to West Wyalong Hospital in the state’s Central West last Thursday suffering from a potentially fatal lung infection.
There were no doctors in the hospital at the time and health staff said he could not be evacuated because there were no available ICU beds left in the state.
There are more than 500 ICU beds in NSW in total, and while NSW Health is unable to say how many were available on the night of September 14, it has disputed the allegation that not a single bed was free that night for Mr Boneham.
Data on ICU availability is limited because numbers fluctuate throughout the day, however The Daily Telegraph understands that ICU beds across the state are often at capacity, and decisions over who takes priority can come down to the age of the patient.
Additionally, NSW Health admitted West Wyalong Hospital was only staffed by visiting GPs and does not have a permanent doctor.
Health Minister Ryan Park on Thursday said he was speaking to NSW Health about the matter.
“Of course claims like these concern me, I care deeply about patients and the healthcare they receive in our hospitals and I want to get to the bottom of this,” he said.
There was no doctor in the town of West Wyalong when Mr Boneham arrived at the hospital, and he saw three registered nurses who were on at the time. A doctor was eventually able to be reached via telehealth.
After Mr Boneham’s condition deteriorated, his son Michael Boneham was told by health staff his father needed to be put on life support but could not be evacuated to ICU as no beds were available in the entire state.
An attempt to get him to Wagga Wagga Hospital nearly two hours’ drive away was stopped as the family was told the ambulance did not have the equipment necessary to keep Mr Boneham Snr alive.
“There was no ambulance in West Wyalong at all, so it had to drive all the way out from Wagga,” Michael Boneham said.
“Two paramedics arrived, loaded him into the ambulance and within 15 minutes took him back out.”
Michael Boneham said the nurses and medical staff did a wonderful job trying to help his father with limited resources.
Early on Friday morning, an ICU bed was finally found in Orange, where Mr Boneham was immediately evacuated and continues to be under care.
NSW Health maintains Mr Boneham’s care was clinically appropriate.
“In the event that a doctor is unavailable on-site, staff have on-demand virtual access to senior clinicians who specialise in emergency medicine,” a NSW Health spokesman said.
Health Services Union general secretary Gerard Hayes said chronic staff shortages were causing the trouble.
“Something is very wrong,” Mr Hayes said.
“In a state like NSW we should be able to deliver those services to everyone
“It’s about staff. You can put in more beds but if you don’t have the right people at the right places at the right time, it doesn’t help.”