WA officials dispute claims man in morgue was alive

West Australian officials have denied suggestions a palliative care patient may have been alive when he was transferred to a Perth morgue.

The state coroner’s court is examining the allegations relating to a 55-year-old patient at Rockingham General Hospital, who was moved from a ward to the morgue on September 5 without his death having been formally certified.

A doctor raised the alarm about the man’s condition after he was asked the following day to certify the death and backdate the certificate.

In a report to the coroner, the doctor alleged the patient’s eyes were open, two limbs had shifted position and there was blood on his hospital gown.

“I believe the frank blood from a new skin tear, arm position and eye signs were inconsistent with a person who was post-mortem on arrival at the morgue,” the doctor wrote, according to a Business News report.

The doctor, who has since quit the hospital, is alleging authorities sought to cover up the incident.

The South Metropolitan Health Service has launched an investigation and WA’s Corruption and Crime Commission is also examining the incident.

Health service chief executive Paul Forden on Thursday said an experienced nurse had assessed the man on September 5 and found no signs of life.

But there were no treating doctors available to certify the death as required.

Mr Forden said he had spoken to clinicians who believed the signs identified by the doctor at the morgue were “not unusual”.

“The doctor was requested to consider whether they’d be prepared to put the time of death as the previous day when the nurse had assessed the death. The doctor declined to do that,” Mr Forden told reporters.

“The doctor raised some concerns appropriately with the coroner’s office. I would not try to suppress anybody in the medical profession raising concerns.

“The investigation is into the protocols following the death of the patient, not into whether that patient was deceased.”

Australian Medical Association WA president Mark Duncan-Smith said the doctor had acted with integrity.

“I’ve not heard of a certificate of life extinct being asked to be backdated,” he said.

“If that is in fact what has occurred, then I would also suggest that a referral to the CCC would be appropriate.”

Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson said she was seeking answers over the incident.

“I am concerned about these serious allegations and requested an urgent briefing from South Metro Health Service (SMHS), who have advised that an investigation is under way,” she said in a statement.

“SMHS is in contact with the patient’s family. For the sake of all staff involved and importantly the family, it is important that we allow the investigation, and any external investigation, to run its course.”

Opposition health spokeswoman Libby Mettam said the allegations were deeply disturbing and warranted a thorough and transparent investigation.

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