Code Yellow: An open letter to WA Premier Mark Mcgowan

Dear Premier Mark McGowan,                                                                                                 7am April 1 2021

It was with glee that I watched WA Labor thrash the Liberals in my home state in the recent WA state election. I live in Victoria but I grew up in Perth and my family are your constituents. I watched the Liberal candidate concede defeat like other people watch cooking shows. With relish.

But last week on Friday 26 March on the advice of a local GP my father went to the emergency department of Joondalup Health Campus at around 8pm. He was moved from the waiting room to the emergency department just after midnight. Mum described the emergency department as “chaos”. Dad was not seen by a doctor until 5am. After which he was admitted to the public hospital.

His condition was serious and he needed to be transferred to Sir Charles Gardner Hospital for specialist treatment. But there were no beds at Charlie Gardners. They call that a Code Yellow in the trade. Yellow like my father’s hepatic skin.

I know my Dad is lucky that he isn’t indigenous or he would be dead already from the life expectancy gap. I know Dad is lucky that he is in a hospital and not in some bombed out building being shelled by Russians. I know Dad is lucky that he lives somewhere free of the ravages of COVID. I know my Dad is lucky the Liberals aren’t in charge.

But let me tell you this. My parents worked hard their whole lives. They paid their taxes. And your government is failing them.

I was in Victoria where I have a job at a union. I couldn’t sleep Friday night waiting to hear. I annoyed my sister in Perth by phoning her for updates constantly. Saturday morning I phoned her at 5.30am Perth time but I knew she would be awake. Nobody knew what was happening. I didn’t know whether to take carer’s leave (shout out to unions) or wait.

But on Monday someone in my family, I forget who, told me down the phone that Dad still hadn’t been seen by a doctor since being admitted Saturday morning. I had been consoling myself by saying well at least he is being looked after by doctors.

On Tuesday I got on a plane. A plane to my home state. The state that wouldn’t let Clive in. The state that only has two Liberals left. The promised land.

I already harboured ill feelings toward Joondalup Health Campus because it is where my mother had a double mastectomy in 2011. I felt no small measure of dread re-entering the premises.

In 2011, I was poor but after seeing Dad asleep on a shitty couch in a shitty patient guest area waiting for Mum to come back from surgery I took out private health cover. I was scared of public health. Now I can afford private health cover but choose not to have it because I believe in public health. Or at least I did. Yesterday afternoon Dad was wheeled downstairs for an echocardiogram. The lone sonographer had gone home sick. At the time of writing he still hasn’t had his ticker checked. I just tried to console my Mum (a cockney) by suggesting we watch an episode of Heartbeat. We both have enough black humour to see the funny side of that.

My Dad loves the movie Cool Hand Luke. Have you seen it? Remember that line, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.” Looking around the overcrowded and understaffed ward as my Dad lays dying I would say that is an understatement. I want to point out that I don’t blame my doctor and nurse comrades for any of this. I blame the people at the top. I blame Ramsay Health Care—the owners of Joondalup Health Campus who list as their values on their website :

We aim to grow our business while maintaining sustainable levels of profitability, providing a basis for stakeholder loyalty.

And here is a stock exchange announcement from 2020:

Ramsay Health Care today reported statutory net profit after tax, attributable to members of the parent (after adjusting for net non-core items after tax) of $284.0 million…

And I’m sorry to say it but I blame the government who let these jackals in.

Last night after Mum and I came home from the hospital we decided to play scrabble. Having navigated the horrors of breast cancer our family knows the importance of distraction via board games. But before we even had a chance to lay down a tile Mum’s phone rang. It was Dad. Alone in an understaffed ward of a hospital during a health crisis in a Labor state. A doctor had told my Dad he had liver cancer and there is no treatment. Apparently the doctor was coming from a compassionate place. He had already apologised to my family for the fact that Dad was in hospital for several days with no doctor.

When I was a kid Dad took me fishing and taught me that after you catch the fish you put it out of its misery straight away. I feel like the doctor could see my Dad flailing on the hook of cancer and was trying to put him out of his misery.

I’m writing this from the kitchen table of my parent’s home. Mum is making a cup of tea. My other sister who is a GP who works in public health is flying in from up north. I just asked Mum, “Hey Mum. Did you vote in the election?” “Course I did.” “Did you vote Labor?” “Course I did.” “Did Dad?” “He did this time.” My Dad is a swinging voter between the reds and greens.

Another politician in a resource rich state–Hugo Chavez– had an approval rating like yours at one point and now Venezuela is in ruins. I beg you to sort out the health system in WA. There are clear divides between the haves and the have nots in WA. It is an affront to anybody who values fairness.

It might be too late for my Dad but I don’t want other families to have to deal with the negligence, the shitty management, the exhausted hospital staff. In the words of my Mum who just ironed a blue pyjama top for Dad “They’ve got to sort it out.”


Sarah Coles

11am 6 April 2021

PS. Dad was moved to Sir Charles Garner Hospital on Friday 2 April. One full week after being admitted to emergency. At the time of writing we still have no news. In order to confirm the Joondalup Health Campus diagnosis of liver cancer my Dad needs a liver biopsy but so far all I have seen Dad get is a plate of roast beef, an easter egg and the care of amazing nurses. Perth’s newspapers are full of articles about the health crisis facing the state. This health crisis, while new to my eyes, must have been brewing for some time. Premier Mcgowan, I beg you and your party to sort this out.

Martin Robert Coles died at 4.10pm on April 16 2021. He is sorely missed. Our family is grateful to the palliative care staff at Sir Charles Gardner Hospital who were brilliant.

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