Trigger warning: This article contains references to a sexual assault
WA’s health minister has conceded a young girl allegedly raped by a teenage patient at Perth Children’s Hospital (PCH) was let down by the system meant to keep her safe.
The incident allegedly occurred in a PCH mental health ward last year and was reported by the ABC after the 13-year-old victim, given the pseudonym Florence, detailed the shocking claims in an essay.
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She alleges another male patient assaulted her while medical staff gathered in a nearby nurse’s station.
“Knowing I’m not the only one genuinely shatters me,” she said.
“We were supposed to be protected.”
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Earlier in the day the boy, also 13, allegedly told Florence he was going to “do stuff” to her that night.
“I was just frozen, knowing he was so much larger than me,” Florence said.
Speaking on Tuesday, WA Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson said the girl had been let down.
“I think this patient has been failed and her family was,” she told reporters.
It was the second time the girl had been allegedly sexually assaulted in three months, with the first incident leading to her admission at PCH.
Perth Children’s Hospital has been rocked by a shocking rape claim. Credit: 7NEWS
The hospital provided Florence’s family with a heavily redacted copy of a clinical incident review commissioned by WA’s Child and Adolescent Health Service (CAHS).
It found the nursing staff on duty that night did not do their required hourly checks between 12.30am and 3.30am and instead gathered in an office on the ward out of fear of the boy.
“It is inexplicable why security wasn’t called,” Sanderson said.
“Security is available to staff 24/7 to support them. Their supervisor also should have attended that incident and supported the staff.
“It was an extremely serious event and there were a number of failings and that’s why we’ve taken it so seriously.”
The review also said CCTV captured video of the boy crawling across the ward floor and entering Florence’s room about 12.30am.
The family has not been allowed to view the footage but Sanderson has asked for that decision to be reviewed.
She said several investigations were launched immediately after the incident was reported, including a full review by CAHS and an independent probe by the office of the chief psychiatrist (OCP), which is responsible for overseeing the standards of treatment and the care of patients of mental health facilities in WA.
Amber-Jade Sanderson has addressed disturbing new claims from a patient in PCH’s mental health ward. Credit: 7NEWS
Admitting protocols were not followed on the night, the minister said significant change had been introduced.
“Once the report was finalised the OCP met with the family to discuss the findings,” Sanderson said..
“All recommendations have been accepted – some of which were suggested by the family.
“Action to address recommendations have since been taken and further work continues.
“Now on every shift, staff assess risk and familiarise themselves with current specific safety plans tailored to individual patients.
“CAHS has also strengthened the identification of risk and handover processes including education and sexual safety education.”
Significantly, the minister issued the CAHS board with a show cause notice, asking them to provide her with “reassurance that they were taking this and other matters seriously”.
Sanderson said there were some “disciplinary actions” and counselling for staff working on the night, and said, “those staff don’t work on the ward anymore”.
Senior health representatives were embedded in the health service for four months and $7.7m was allocated to “structural changes and some reconfiguration to improve the ward layout”.
The funding was revealed in a state budget announcement in April, but it was not made clear at the time what incident had triggered the need for it.
“I want to reassure the community that patient safety remains our highest priority, especially where children are involved and I want the family and the patient involved to know we have taken this very seriously and we continue to implement changes to improve the ward and to improve safety for children,” Sanderson said on Tuesday.
The family is now considering legal action against the hospital over the incident and is still fighting for answers.
‘It’s been challenging’
More than 1500 people have reportedly been sexually assaulted or harassed in mental health wards across Australia over the past six years.
The minister said this was the only alleged assault of its kind on Ward 5A at PCH.
Sanderson said the alleged attack on Florence and the death of Aishwarya Aswath less than a year earlier had left her frustrated and triggered the show cause notice and level 3 intervention.
She said several members of the CAHS board had since been replaced, along with the majority of CAHS executives.
CAHS board chair Dr Rosanna Capolingua said “we do not want the community to lose confidence in PCH”.
“I think over the last few years it’s been challenging,” Capolingua said.
“We certainly still see a huge number of attendances which is exactly what we want to see.”
WA Liberal leader Libby Mettam has called for a public inquiry into the incident, saying it was inexcusable and tragic.
“Adding to the distress is the apparent lack of information that has been provided to her family and their ongoing fight to have access to the CCTV and the incident report,” Mettam said.
“Her parents should not be fighting for details – that is heartless and reeks of a cover-up.”
WA’s Commissioner for Children and Young People told 7NEWS “this alleged incident is dreadful and unacceptable”.
“Our mental health system is currently under review and crises such as what has allegedly occurred need to be prioritised immediately within the review,” Jacqueline McGowan-Jones said.
“It is government’s role to protect children and young people seeking the provision of mental health services.”
– With AAP
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au.
In an emergency, call 000.
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