Please note, this story contains reference to someone who has died.
The circumstances surrounding the death of a six-year-old Torres Strait Islander boy who presented to Bamaga Hospital in 2017 have been revealed in a damning report by Queensland’s Office of the Health Ombudsman (OHO).
Charlie Gowa presented to Bamaga Hospital in Queensland’s Northern Peninsula Area (NPA) on January 5, 2017 after waking up severely unwell. The hospital advised Gowa had a stomach bug and sent him home with an ice-block and Panadol.
Gowa’s condition continued to deteriorate. His family took him to the Bamaga Hospital Emergency Department on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday before he was admitted on Tuesday January 10, 2017. He was then flown to Cairns Hospital, where Gowa was placed in an induced coma. Gowa’s father was notified of the severity of his son’s condition and the young boy was then flown to Brisbane.
Four days after being admitted, Gowa died from overwhelming sepsis, which resulted from a delayed diagnosis of melioidosis—a bacterial infection found in tropical areas.
In May 2018, the OHO received a written complaint regarding the care Gowa received at Bamaga Hospital.
The OHO found that whilst Gowa presented to the hospital’s Emergency Department consecutively from January 5 to 10, the hospital’s clinical records only commenced on January 9. This lack of documentation was a “substantial deficit in the quality of care”, according to the clinical advisor referenced in the report.
The report presented 20 recommendations, which included cultural competency and appropriate documentation processes. It noted Gowa’s case was an example of the “ongoing challenges and barriers the hospital and community face”.
In a statement from the National Justice Project, Gowa’s father, Ron, said he wanted people to know what happened to his son, so things can change.
“I want justice for my little boy. I also want change. Our community needs access to safe healthcare, just like any Australian community does. No family should face the barriers that we faced in trying to save our son.”
Charlie’s mother, Xernona PoiPoi, also commented.
“I tried so hard to get my son the help that he needed. The hospital would not help him and there was nowhere else we could go. These problems have existed for so long and they are still there today. I want better for my family and my community,” she said.
Bamaga Hospital falls under the Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service (TCHHS).
Chief Executive of TCHHS, Beverley Hamerton, provided NIT with a statement.
“The Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service (TCHHS) respectfully acknowledge the loss of Charles Gowa and recognise the distress and anguish of his parents and extended family. Charlie’s story as told by his Mother is distressing to read and we recognise the pain and frustration felt by family,” the statement read.
“TCHHS has undertaken two reviews of the care provided to Charlie and has now also considered the information provided [in the] Office of the Health Ombudsman’s (OHO) report.
“TCHHS accepts the recommendations of the report and is working with the OHO, Charlie’s family and community stakeholders on the implementation and monitoring of the recommendations.”
Hamerton reassured the community of the standard of care delivered at the hospital.
“Services at Bamaga Hospital have developed significantly since 2017; we now have four permanent medical officers in the Northern Peninsula Area offering seven-day per week services, a functioning multiagency Health Action Team, an improved digital clinical medical record system, improved integration and coordination between Bamaga and Thursday Island Hospitals and regular programmed visits by our Consumer Liaison Officer.”
By Rachael Knowles