Sister loses confidence in Wairau Hospital

Fighting spirit:  Lynn Weir holds a photograph of her sister Rachel Riddell, who died after a gall bladder operation at Wairau Hospital in January last year. The tattoo on her arm is in memory of Rachel.
Fighting spirit: Lynn Weir holds a photograph of her sister Rachel Riddell, who died after a gall bladder operation at Wairau Hospital in January last year. The tattoo on her arm is in memory of Rachel.

The sister of a Picton woman who died during surgery no longer believes patients are safe at Wairau Hospital because of the way the Nelson Marlborough District Health Board has dealt with complaints following the death.

Rachel Riddell was 31 when she died from major blood loss in January last year after gall bladder surgery by general surgeon Michael Parry. Her sister Lynn Weir is pleased police are investigating the death and hopes this will help her grieving family understand what went wrong.

"The board has appeared to back (Mr Parry) so strongly, it makes me doubt the system," Ms Weir said. "Had they been open and honest I would feel more confident."

Ms Weir complained to the Health and Disability Commission on behalf of the family, with help from advocate Adrien Pitcon-Mason, of Picton.

She said her sister's death was not an isolated incident. Angie Webber and another woman had also complained about their treatment after being transferred to Christchurch Hospital when gall bladder operations by Mr Parry in December 2010 and February 2011 went wrong.

"How can the board continue to have confidence in a surgeon when three women have botched surgery in three months - one dies and two are shipped to Christchurch for repairs," Ms Weir asked.

Both Ms Webber and the second woman had laid complaints with the health and disability commissioner, which referred them to the Medical Council.

Board chief medical officer Heather McPherson told the Express in December last year that Mr Parry was still employed at the Blenheim hospital.

Because Ms Webber and the second woman's complications arose in a relatively short time frame, the board had arranged for surgeons from a larger health board to review his practice, including directly supervising him during laparoscopic surgeries, Dr McPherson said.

"The organisation has confidence in the surgeon's ability to undertake assigned clinical duties, including laparoscopic surgery safely and competently," she said.

A month later, the board asked to withdraw this statement.

The Medical Council, acting on the complaints from the two women, ordered in March that Dr Parry's performance be assessed.

He continued to operate at Wairau Hospital until he stood down on full pay when patient Jim Nicholls died of massive blood loss following surgery on May 24.

Coroner Carla na Nagara began an inquiry last month into a death at the hospital, believed to be Ms Riddell, and then announced on December 7 that she was adjourning the process so police could run their own investigation into at least one death.

Dr McPherson has maintained that the quality of service at Wairau Hospital is of a "good standard" and patient safety is the highest priority.

Ms Weir said her sister had expected to return home the same day from straightforward keyhole surgery done through small incisions. However, Mr Parry switched to open surgery part-way through the operation.

About 3pm that day Ms Weir received a phone-call saying Rachel was in serious trouble and was returning to surgery. She died at 7pm.

Raised as a Jehovah's Witness but no longer practicing, Ms Riddell had requested "bloodless" surgery, which means blood from other people cannot be used for any transfusions.

Ms Weir said she had many questions about her sister's care which she hoped police could help answer.

These included where the bleeding came from and whether Wairau Hospital was properly equipped to deal with an emergency during bloodless surgery, which is becoming increasingly popular internationally.


Victim would have wanted answers

Picton woman Rachel Riddell was an assertive woman who would have expected her family to demand answers about her death after undergoing surgery at Wairau Hospital in Blenheim, her sister Lynn Weir says.

Miss Riddell was the fourth of five children.  Her family remembers her as loyal and stubborn with strong opinions.

''She was a great aunt to her nieces and nephews and who loved knitting and crocheting and researching family trees.''

At the time of her death, 32-year-old Miss Riddell worked in the Strait Shipping Ltd office in Picton, first in customer services then in the freight office.

She had also worked as a nurse aid in Picton rest homes and as an administrator for private training organisation Te Kakama, now the Koru Institute of Training and Education.

Koru chief executive Monique Gemmell said she was a ''very honest and dedicated worker, always happy to help and go the extra mile''

The Marlborough Express