29 June 2016

Study to help hospitals tap parental insight

When the condition of a young hospital patient deteriorates suddenly, parents can be the first to recognise something is wrong. Though they might be quick to alert nursing and medical staff to their child’s worsening condition, it seems they are less likely to escalate matters if staff fail to respond adequately.

Now a WA Health nurse researcher from Princess Margaret Hospital is set to explore the reasons for this lack of follow through.

Fenella Gill hopes her study– with infrastructure assistance from a State Government New Independent Researcher Infrastructure Support (NIRIS) award – will result in a mechanism that empowers parents to make the call when they sense things going wrong. 

“There have unfortunately been tragic cases in Australia and overseas where children have died due to staff not recognising signs of deterioration, despite parents voicing their concerns to health professionals,” Dr Gill said.

“Families are not responsible for assessing clinical changes in patient condition but they can certainly add value because they know their child better than anybody.”

Dr Gill said that in response to high-profile tragedies, health services around the globe had developed safety and quality programs to promote strong parental involvement.

Her study will investigate how one such program “Calling for Help” can be optimised at Princess Margaret Hospital and later at the new Perth Children’s Hospital, to ensure that provisions for escalated care initiated by parents meet the needs of both parents and staff.

Dr Gill reveals that in the first 12 months of “Calling for Help” at PMH, there was just one case of parents seeking a review of their child’s care due to a perceived inadequate response.

“Whether this dearth of escalations was due to families not realising the avenues open to them, concerns their child’s care might be compromised if they made a fuss, or for other reasons, we don’t yet know,” Dr Gill said.

To better understand the factors that influence parental involvement, the program has been relaunched to include:

  • parents being given information sheets explaining how they can seek a review of their child’s care
  • posters explaining the process being displayed prominently around wards
  • staff members being impressed of the need to inform parents of the process
  • greater consumer involvement.

“By gaining a good understanding of the barriers to parents voicing their concerns, we can try to develop programs that promote family involvement and hopefully prevent avoidable tragedies,” she said.

Dr Gill has a background in paediatric intensive care and is one of eight WA researchers to have received a NIRIS award in the latest round of the State funding program.

NIRIS awards help high-performing new researchers develop independent research careers by assisting with the costs of infrastructure associated with their individual projects.

Western Australia’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Gary Geelhoed, said Dr Gill was to be congratulated on her award that would support work that had the potential to make a real difference to patients – potentially saving lives.

Professor Geelhoed said each of this year’s NIRIS recipients would receive $10,000.

The recipients are:

  • Dr James Fitzpatrick – Telethon Kids Institute
  • Dr Fenella Gill –School of Nursing, Midwifery and Paramedicine, Curtin University; Department of Nursing Research, Princess Margaret Hospital
  • Dr Elin Gray – School of Medical and Health Sciences, Edith Cowan University
  • Dr Phillip Melton – Centre for Genetic Origins of Health and Disease, University of Western Australia
  • Dr Elizabeth Newnham – School of Psychology, University of Western Australia
  • Dr Richard Norman – School of Public Health, Curtin University
  • Dr Gavin Pereira – School of Public Health, Curtin University
  • Dr Ann-Maree Vallence – School of Psychology and Exercise Science, Murdoch University.


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