NSW hospital vaccine scare could lead to medical negligence claims

Date: Feb 04, 2015

A major Sydney hospital could face medical negligence claims, following revelations that a refrigerator used to hold vaccines was found to be faulty.

Royal Prince Alfred (RPA) Hospital is now trying to track down 570 mothers and nine babies that received vaccinations, which were being stored below optimal temperatures. Women admitted to the hospital’s postnatal wards between August 2013 and January 2015 could have been administered the medication.

Deborah Willcox, RPA Hospital’s general manager, said there is no risk to anyone who received a vaccination, but the hospital can’t guarantee its effectiveness due to improper storage.

NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner admitted the problem was “disappointing”, adding that she had asked the hospital to check its other departments to make sure the issue was only an isolated incident.

“A full investigation is underway to guarantee all public hospitals are compliant with medication storage protocols,” she added.

“I’m advised measures will be introduced at RPA to ensure this incident does not happen again.”

The vaccinations included MMR jabs, which protect against measles, mumps and rubella. There were also vaccines for tetanus, diphtheria, hepatitis B and whooping cough.

However, Ms Willcox said there is no evidence that patients had contracted any of these diseases due to the refrigeration fault.

Medical negligence claims

If any of the affected mothers and children were to fall ill as a result of the sub-optimal vaccine storage, they could be entitled to make a medical negligence claim.

This requires the patient to prove that medical practitioners failed in their duty of care, which means showing they are guilty of more than just an honest mistake.

“On behalf of RPA, I would like to sincerely apologise for any concern this incident may have caused, or may cause,” Ms Willcox went on to say.

She claimed that no other medications were inadequately stored, adding that patients could continue to put their trust in the hospital moving forward.

A hotline was organised to allay concerns, with people urged to call 1800 300 243 if they thought they might be affected. In addition, a free clinic was set up at Croydon Health Centre last month for re-administering vaccinations.

Leena Gupta, public health unit clinical director, told the Sydney Morning Herald that a new vaccination may not be necessary in all cases.

“In some circumstances, [patients] may just have a blood test to check their immunity or they may actually decide that they don’t need anything further done,” she stated.

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