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Nurse loses job and home during five-year fight for answers for his patient

Email When his patient suffered a stroke, a nurse went on a five-year fight for answers 7.30 By Sarah Curnow, ABC Investigations and Lucy Carter, 7.30

Updated October 09, 2019 08:25:33

Man wearing blue collared shirt and black hooded jacket stares with green trees in background Photo: Tim Griffin (pictured) worked at the Austin Hospital for over a decade before losing his job in the aftermath of Rory Wilson's accident. (ABC News: Jeremy Story Carter) Map: Heidelberg 3084

Tim Griffin never wanted to be a whistleblower. He just wanted to be a good nurse.

Key points:

  • Rory Wilson broke his back after crashing into a truck on his pushbike, before suffering a stroke while in hospital
  • His nurse Tim Griffin feared Rory was at risk of a stroke and believes the hospital did not take those concerns seriously enough
  • Mr Griffin has spent years trying to expose what he believes was a medical error, but the hospital said it found no evidence of wrongdoing

He worked at the Austin Hospital in Melbourne, the only spinal hospital for the south-eastern quarter of Australia.

"It was known as the Centre for Excellence. It was a very specialised and unique ward and type of nursing," he said.

"You either worked there for six months or you worked there for your whole life — it was tough, but rewarding. I found it very rewarding,' he said.

Tim was there for over 10 years. He loved his job.

All of that changed in July 2014 when Rory Wilson was brought into Tim Griffin's ward.

Man with glasses stares toward window sitting in wheelchair with brick wall behind him Photo: Rory Wilson was a fit and healthy bike rider prior to his accident. (ABC News: Jeremy Story Carter)

Rory and his mates were on a bike ride near Portarlington on the Southern Victorian coast when he crashed headlong into a parked truck.

"I felt my spinal cord break. I thought, 'OK, I don't like the feel of this' and I knew this was not going to be good for me," Rory said.

Rory had been fit in a way that put other 63-year-olds to shame. Now his back was broken. He was paralysed for life.

Man with glasses in wheelchair holding a letter with woman behind him next to brick column inside house holding a mug Photo: Rory Wilson and his wife Pauline at home in Victoria. (ABC News: Jeremy Story Carter)

His wife Pauline said within a day of the accident, Rory had already started coming to terms with his injury.

"He was in good spirits. He had multiple plans at that stage for how he was going to behave as a paraplegic. He was going to cycle his way to the Olympics, because he's Rory," she said.

But within days of the accident, Rory Wilson's family became concerned something else was going on — something in his brain.

Back broken but worse was to come

Large hospital building at night with word Austin illuminated above row of windows with lights on, under dark night sky Photo: Rory Wilson was treated at the Austin Hospital in its specialist unit for spinal injuries. (ABC News)

Rory's son Carrick told 7.30 he told staff in the Austin's Intensive Care Unit (ICU) that his father's face was drooping on the right side and that he seemed confused.

Carrick said the staff didn't appear to take any action. The next day Rory was transferred to the Austin's Spinal Unit.

"It was the end of an evening shift," Tim Griffin said.

"His adult son was with him and he had concerns about his slurred speech and facial droop. So I called for a medical review and asked for a CT scan. But the doctor said it wasn't necessary."

Man stands on green grass mound with trees and house veranda in background Photo: Tim said he has developed acquired alcohol dependence. (ABC News: Jeremy Story Carter)

Mr Griffin now says his life was changed forever by what happened from that moment on.

He says when the doctor dismissed his concerns, he started doing neurological observations on Rory Wilson anyway — something that would pick up stroke symptoms.

When he clocked off that night, he says his handover requested they be continued. Then he went on his five days of assigned leave.

Mr Griffin believes what actually happened during those five days is nothing short of medical negligence.

Nurse believed warning signs were evident

Rory Wilson's medical records show his confusion continued over the next few days.

At times, staff observed him as delirious.

Back of woman's head visible through hospital room window with curtain visible  Photo: Pauline Wilson said she pushed hospital staff to take the risk of Rory suffering a stroke seriously. (ABC News)

Pauline Wilson says at times, Rory didn't even know her, even asking for her when she was with him in the ward.

On July 15, a physiotherapist and doctor noted Rory had lost feeling in his right cheek.

The next morning, staff observed he had severe right arm weakness.

In a statement, the Austin Hospital said Rory Wilson was under routine and constant observation.

"A number of symptoms were recorded and it was the opinion of our medical staff at the time that these were initially associated with intravenous, pain-relief medication and his spinal-cord injury," Austin Health said.

"There was no failure in the care provided and that earlier intervention would not have changed his medical outcomes as he was already receiving the appropriate blood-thinning medication that is used to reduce the risk of stroke.

"The concerns raised by our former staff member, Mr Griffin, were thoroughly investigated internally by the relevant clinical experts."

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By his eighth day in hospital, Rory Wilson's wife says she lost her cool.

"I said to them: 'He has a head and two arms and I really need those three things to function because there's nothing else. So you need to do something about it.' They assured me that they would take him for a brain scan the next day, so I left it at that," Pauline said.

By the next morning, it was too late.

Mr Griffin returned to work just as Rory was being whisked away.

"I asked [a colleague] what had happened and she said, 'He's just had a massive stroke'," Mr Griffin said.

"Precisely what I'd feared."

Two broken lives

Man sits in dark hallway in wheelchair, with hands folded on lap, wearing orange shoes Photo: Since his accident, Rory's life has changed significantly. (ABC News: Jeremy Story Carter)

This was the start of a five-year battle for both Rory Wilson and Tim Griffin — Rory fighting the Transport Accident Commission for compensation for his paraplegia; Tim fighting to see Rory's medical treatment in the hospital investigated.

Neither had any idea of what the other was going through.

Mr Griffin wrote up an incident report about what had happened and lodged it, despite initial pressure from his manager at the Austin not to.

He said he felt he owed it to Rory.

"It was just too many mistakes. You know in a five-day period there were multiple mistakes. He could have died from any of those occasions," he said.

"Everyone that works there should know that. You shouldn't be working there if you don't know that."

The manager who had discouraged Mr Griffin from writing the report in the first place was the person who ended up reviewing his complaint about Rory Wilson's care. They dismissed his concerns that possible stroke symptoms were overlooked and found the only problem was in the way the patient charts were done.

After filing the report, Mr Griffin says his manager started complaining about his job performance, changed his duties and shouted at him in front of other staff.

Man wearing blue collared shirt and black hooded jacket smoking a cigarette with green trees in background Photo: Tim Griffin has taken up smoking recently. (ABC News: Jeremy Story Carter)

He went on sick leave and complained to the Austin Hospital about his treatment.

The Austin Hospital did not respond to 7.30's questions relating to Mr Griffin's claims about how he was treated by the hospital.

Meanwhile, for his transport accident case, Rory Wilson's lawyer lodged a Freedom of Information request for his medical records. Among them was one document that stood out.

"At the back of Rory's medical records there is a bundle of incident reports, some standard ones including things like slipping incidents, but then one where the document in its entirety is redacted," lawyer Tom Burgoyne told 730.

Composite image of two documents, one with text, one with almost all text covered by large black boxes Photo: The incident report Tim Griffin submitted (left) was almost entirely redacted (right) when it was released to Rory Wilson's lawyer. (Supplied)

That document was Mr Griffin's incident report. It meant Rory had no idea questions about his care and stroke had even been raised.

Fall-out continues

At the end of 2015, Mr Griffin's employment at the Austin was terminated. He continued to try and blow the whistle about Rory's time in the hospital.

Over the next three years, he complained to a series of authorities, including the ombudsman, the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) and the health minister.

They all told him either the hospital had investigated and found nothing wrong, or this was just a workplace dispute between him and his employer.

The impact this battle has had on Mr Griffin has been devastating.

Man seen through window at sink filling kettle with kitchen cupboards in background Photo: Tim said his life has changed forever since becoming involved with Rory's case. (ABC News: Jeremy Story Carter)

He told 7:30 he's been diagnosed with PTSD and a raft of other illnesses.

"I developed several horrible conditions, including acquired alcohol dependence," he said.

"I lost my partner, my house. I've been in and out of hospital [with] physical problems and psychological problems. I've lost faith in the system as such because it seems like nobody wants to know about it."

Meanwhile, Rory Wilson had his own fight on his hands. The law in Victoria didn't cover recreational bike riders who collided with parked vehicles.

After extensive litigation, followed by lobbying politicians, last year the Victorian Government changed the law and made the change retrospective so it covered Rory and any bike riders from July 2014 who had the same kind of accident.

It's called 'Rory's law'.

Tim and Rory reunite

Once his legal battle with the TAC had concluded, he was finally free to meet Mr Griffin and hear his story.

Man in blue shirt stares across to man in grey and black top with glasses, stone wall behind them Photo: Tim Griffin and Rory Wilson meet for the first time following Rory's time in the Austin Hospital. (ABC News: Jeremy Story Carter)

Two weeks ago, 7:30 was with Tim Griffin as he met Rory Wilson for the first time in five years.

It was an emotional meeting. The nurse took the patient through what he had reported, and what he had pieced together about Rory's treatment from his records.

Rory's first reaction wasn't one of anger towards a system that might have failed him, but of sadness for the immense toll the fight had taken on his former nurse.

"The fact that Tim was prepared to back me through to the point of losing his job is, to me, phenomenal," he said.

"I know people keep telling me it's not my fault. But you kind of can't help but feel like you do share in some of the fault. Like, he's fighting on my behalf which I believe is far and above what anyone should have [to] be doing."

For Mr Griffin it was a relief of sorts.

Woman stands next to man in wheelchair under wooden frame with vegetable garden visible in background Photo: Pauline and Rory Wilson outside their home in Victoria. (ABC News: Jeremy Story Carter)

"It's like I've been keeping a secret. It was good to be able to get it out and seeing his response was great because he was so pragmatic and so thankful. That felt good," he said.

Rory and Pauline Wilson are now considering their legal options and whether they should take action against the Austin Hospital.

In a statement, the Austin Hospital said: "Our management of patients who suffer stroke while in our care continues to evolve in line with clinical best practice."

The hospital said it had been in contact with Rory Wilson and his family.

See on the full story on ABC 7.30 tonight

Topics: health, medical-ethics, medical-procedures, disabilities, heidelberg-3084, corio-3214, melbourne-3000

First posted October 09, 2019 02:33:47

Contact Sarah Curnow

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