Minister claims ‘distinct differences’ between toddler Sandipan Dhar’s death and Aishwarya Aswath case

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An investigation has been launched into the “incredibly devastating” death of a toddler at a major Perth healthcare facility.

Sandipan Dhar died on March 24 after his family said they had made repeated requests for blood tests at a GP clinic and Joondalup Health Campus to find the cause of the boy’s long-running fever.

WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE: Investigation into toddler tragedy at Joondalup Health Campus.

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They claim their appeals went unanswered, and a post-mortem examination has confirmed the 21-month-old died from leukaemia.

Ramsay Health Care, which operates Joondalup Health Campus, has launched a probe and is set to deliver preliminary findings to the boy’s family next week.

But Ramsay Health Care state manager Shane Kelly on Friday flagged a “disconnect” between staff at the campus and the boy’s family over the tests they say they asked for.

“We’ve looked at that as part of our investigation as to the asking for a blood test and we interviewed our staff on that,” Kelly said.

“I think it’s something we really need to talk with Mr Dhar about on Monday because they clearly expressed that a blood test was requested.

“But our staff didn’t pick up those cues or certainly when we interviewed them didn’t say that a blood test was refused.”

Sandipan presented at Joondalup Hospital on Friday, March 22, where he was assessed by two doctors and it was determined he had a viral illness, Kelly said.

He improved with oral fluids and pain-relieving analgesia and was able to go home that night “feeling well”.

Sandipan Dhar died at Joondalup Health Campus following appeals by his family for blood tests.Sandipan Dhar died at Joondalup Health Campus following appeals by his family for blood tests.
Sandipan Dhar died at Joondalup Health Campus following appeals by his family for blood tests. Credit: Supplied

Two days later, he was back in hospital and within hours he was dead.

Post-mortem results showed the boy died from complications arising from acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. The cancer can be detected via a blood test.

Kelly said the hospital was adequately staffed on the Friday and that a review of the boy’s care and treatment had been carried out by a panel featuring two independent specialists.

“Their conclusion was that the care was appropriate and that there wasn’t an indication with that presentation to be undertaking a blood test at that time,” Kelly said.

WA Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson said she would wait for the investigation to be completed “before drawing any conclusions about what has occurred here”.

Both Sanderson and Kelly say it was a question for “experts” as to whether a blood test would have impacted the outcome and whether the little boy would still be alive.

“As reported and confirmed in the coroner’s report, Sandipan had a very serious, life-threatening underlying health condition,” the minister said.

“But I am concerned to hear that the Dhar family felt that they were not listened to both at the GP clinic and the hospital.

“It is imperative that families are heard and listened to when they bring their children to hospital, and if there is more that we need to do in this space then we will do that.

“We’ve reached out to the Dhar family and offered to meet with them. I understand the family are likely to take this up.”

Amber-Jade Sanderson says there are ‘distinct differences’ between Sandipan’s death and that of Aishwarya.Amber-Jade Sanderson says there are ‘distinct differences’ between Sandipan’s death and that of Aishwarya.
Amber-Jade Sanderson says there are ‘distinct differences’ between Sandipan’s death and that of Aishwarya. Credit: 7NEWS

Sandipan’s case, and his family’s repeated requests for testing prior to his death, has drawn comparisons to that of Aishwarya Aswath.

Seven-year-old Aishwarya died of sepsis on Easter Saturday 2021, hours after presenting to the Perth Children’s Hospital emergency department with a fever and unusually cold hands.

An inquest was told she had been left in a waiting room for more than 90 minutes, despite her mother Prasitha Sasidharan and father Aswath Chavittupara pleading with clinicians to escalate care.

Deputy State Coroner Sarah Linton found there was a chance Aishwarya’s life might have been saved if overburdened staff did not miss repeated opportunities to identify the seriousness of her condition.

But Sanderson argued there were “quite distinct differences” between the two cases.

“Aishwarya was a largely healthy young girl who contracted an infection which led to sepsis,” the minister said.

“The coroner’s findings that Sandipan was a very sick boy and his interaction with the hospital, with Joondalup Health Campus, was two days prior to him passing and that he would have had that condition for some time.”

Aishwarya Aswath died of sepsis at Perth Children’s Hospital in 2021.Aishwarya Aswath died of sepsis at Perth Children’s Hospital in 2021.
Aishwarya Aswath died of sepsis at Perth Children’s Hospital in 2021. Credit: 7NEWS/AAP

She said Aishwarya’s death had led to a raft of changes.

They included a waiting-room nurse, “Aishwarya’s CARE call” (for people worried they — or a person they care for — are getting sicker in hospital), and training for staff interacting with patients who don’t speak English as a first language.

Aishwarya’s CARE call was not used on the day Sandipan died, Kelly said.

“Our hospital systems see thousands of people every single day. What has occurred here is incredibly devastating but very, very rare,” Sanderson said.

“Our hospital system is staffed by highly skilled clinicians, we have rigorous processes in place to ensure clinicians are supported to make good calls and the right calls.

“This is a rare and tragic circumstance and we will allow the investigation to take its course so we can understand exactly what occurred.”

Sanderson said she expected the final report from Ramsay Health to follow “not too much time after” the early findings were shared with Sandipan’s family.

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