Criticised: Brisbane Waters Private Hospital at Woy Woy, which opened in 1978 and has a mental health unit for more than 30 patients.REVALYN Naidoo was offered an opioid narcotic only minutes before she was discharged from a private hospital in a sedated state in January, 2012, and 40 minutes before she crashed her car on the 50-kilometre drivehome.
She recalled “waking up to my head hitting the roof of the car and being airborne and I blacked out again. The next thing was when the ambulance was there scooping up the teeth – my broken teeth from my mouth”, a court heard.
NSW District Court Judge David Wilson, SC, has awarded Ms Naidoo nearly $100,000 plus legal costs after finding Brisbane Waters Private Hospital and her treating psychiatrist, Dr Larissa Grund, failed in their duty of care to her after she was allowed to drive home despite repeated warnings about her sedated state.
In a judgment in DecemberJudge Wilson found Ms Naidoo, 52, had a cold shower to try to wake herself up on January 17, 2012 before she was discharged, after she repeatedly fell asleep, including at breakfast,and after hospital nursing staff said her bed was needed for another patient.
Judge Wilson accepted Ms Naidoo’s evidence that she was given a dose of the strong opioid narcotic OxyContin only hours before discharge. He also accepted her evidence that she questioned whether she should take a second OxyContin dose only minutes before her discharge and the 50 kilometre drive home from Woy Woy to north ofWyong.
“I took the tablet out of the cup and I said, ‘This will just make me feel more drowsy. I’m already drowsy. This will make it worse. I promise I will take it when I get home’,”Ms Naidoo said she told nurse Anna Easson who offered the OxyContin, and a short time later gave Ms Naidoo the keys to her car.
Judge Wilson found the actions “cast doubt over the professionalism of the nurse”. Attempting to administer OxyContin at the time of discharge “was, to say the least, irresponsible”, he said.
Judge Wilson criticised the hospital which argued the scope of the duty it owed to Ms Naidoowas for hospital services only, and did not include a duty overher transportation home.
It “defied commonsense” that a fellow patient could express concern about Ms Naidoo’s ability to drive home while hospital staff failed to appreciate she was “unfit to drive, probably unfit to be discharged and not in a position herself to make a reliable assessment” of her abilities, Judge Wilson said.
He accepted Ms Naidoo’s evidence that she attempted the drive because she trusted the judgment of her carers. She was in hospital because of depression and severe pain related to a previous back injury.
Judge Wilson strongly criticised Dr Grund and ordered her to pay more than $60,000 of the nearly $100,000 in damages after finding her “cavalier attitude” to Ms Naidoo’s condition and fitness to drive on discharge was “an extraordinary breach of her duty of care” to her patient.
It followed evidence that in a letter to a doctor about Ms Naidoo Dr Grund noted that OxyContin was “probably the culprit for excessive drowsiness in days prior to discharge”.
Judge Wilson accepted Ms Naidoo’s evidence that in a conversation with Dr Grund on the day prior to discharge she expressed concern about driving due to drowsiness, and Dr Grund responded that “You should be fine to drive”.
Leaving the question of whether a “highly medicated psychiatric patient” was fit to drive to the patient was “complete neglect” of Dr Grund’s obligations as a medical care provider, Judge Wilson found.
The hospital was ordered to pay Ms Naidoo, a nurse and former Medicare Private employee, more than $32,000 in damages and Dr Grund more than $64,000 after evidence the crash not far from her home was caused by her heavily-sedated state. The crash exacerbated a previous back condition, Judge Wilson found.