Victoria’s stage-four lockdown prevented four sick newborn babies, who subsequently died, from being flown from Adelaide to Melbourne to receive lifesaving cardiac surgery. The babies, the fourth of whom died only last Friday, would normally have been taken by a team from Adelaide’s Women’s and Children’s Hospital and flown to Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital for specialist heart surgery. But with Melbourne under lockdown the distraught families of the infants were told that their children were not permitted to enter Victoria for the operations. And SA Health was also of the view that the babies should remain in Adelaide for fear of exposing them to the virus in Victorian hospitals as they were immunocompromised.

Aside from exposing the human impacts of the Victorian lockdown, the deaths of the children have been slammed as an indictment on the South Australian government, which rejected calls from medical specialists to establish a specialist paediatric cardiac service at the Womens Children Hospital (WCH). SA is the only mainland state without that service. The deaths of the babies emerged at a distressing hearing of the SA parliament’s public health committee, during which obstetrician John Svigos confirmed the lockdown meant the children could not receive the usual care. Professor Svigos said the starting point for the problem was the failure of the SA government to fund a specialist paediatric service, but that the Melbourne lockdown had also left the four babies with no hope.

“Particularly in our current COVID situation, where the usual process of referral to the Melbourne cardiac unit is no longer tenable, and referral to Sydney is on a case-by-case basis,” Professor Svigos told the committee. “I’ve been given to understand that the WCH has sadly seen the deaths of three babies in the past four weeks who were unable to be transferred, who almost certainly would have benefited from on-site cardiac services. I shall leave it to you to imagine the profound effect of these deaths on the parents, their families and the dedicated medical and nursing staff dealing with these tragedies.” Giving evidence after Professor Svigos, Salaried Medical Officers Association chief industrial office Bernadette Mulholland revealed that four babies had now died in the past month following the death of another last week.

She told the committee that the problem was South Australia’s failure to provide cardiac services that exist for babies in every other state except Tasmania. “If we had that service here in SA that would prevent the deaths of some of these children,” she said. She was backed by Professor Svigos, who said that while SA Health spent $5m a year transferring sick babies and children interstate, a specialist unit at the WCH would cost $6m to establish and $1m a year to operate. Ms Mulholland said doctors had advised her “that in these four cases, the issue was Victoria not being able to retrieve the babies’’. ALP health spokesman Chris Picton said the problem would not have occurred if the government had funded the service. But independent upper-house MP Connie Bonaros said Labor had cut the funding and the Liberals refused to reinstate it.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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