Ryan Saunders.
Ryan Saunders.

The call made by 3514 desperate Queenslanders

A MEDICAL process that allows families or carers to escalate their concerns if they fell a patient's condition is getting worse or doctors aren't listening has been invoked in Queensland more than 5000 times in six years.

The rule was introduced to Queensland public hospitals in 2013 after the tragic and preventable death of Ryan Saunders just two months before his third birthday.

The toddler died in 2007 at Rockhampton Base Hospital from an undiagnosed streptococcal infection, which led to toxic shock syndrome.


His death sparked outrage from his devastated parents amid claims medical staff had not taken their concerns about his worsening condition seriously.

Authorities responded by introducing Ryan's Rule - a three-step process that allows families or carers to escalate their concerns if a patient's condition is getting worse or not improving as expected.

The Courier-Mail can exclusively reveal the rule has been activated 3514 times since being introduced in 2013.

It has been invoked 329 times so far this year, with Queensland Health data revealing the most calls for help (1014) were made last year.

Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington said the number of times Ryan's Rule had been invoked by fearful loved ones was "concerning".

"(More than) 1000 cases of families and carers raising concerns in one year is very concerning and is a symptom of the pressure Labor has put our hospitals under," she said.

"One of the many things the LNP did in government to fix Anna Bligh's health crisis was introduce Ryan's Rule, a process so that patients of any age, their families and carers can raise concerns about the treatment they are receiving in our public hospitals."

Justine Christerson, a rural patient health advocate of more than six years, said the figures were "appalling".

"I find those numbers very concerning based on the fact that Ryan's Rule is used if you feel that doctors aren't listening," she said.

“Appalling numbers”: Rural patient health advocate Justine Christerson. Picture: Jamie Hanson
“Appalling numbers”: Rural patient health advocate Justine Christerson. Picture: Jamie Hanson

"That really sums it up, that parents, patients and carers are not being listened to and they are not even able to advocate for themselves to get the medical care and attention needed, so they are having to get further critical review."

However, Queensland Health Clinical Excellence Division deputy director-general Dr John Wakefield said Ryan's Rule was working "precisely as it was prescribed".

"We are not a system scared of mums and dads asking questions; in fact, we encourage it," he said.

"Ryan's Rule is a vital part of Queensland's public health system and our hospitals have been very proactive in promoting it."

Dr Wakefield said most Ryan's Rule calls did not require intervention after a review by a nurse or doctor.

"But that fact people are using it, shows it is working," he said.

Health Consumers Queensland chief executive Melissa Fox said it would be interesting to know if those who had invoked Ryan's Rule felt their concerns were addressed.

"We would hope that the increase in Ryan's Rule calls over the last three years demonstrates that patients and their loved ones are becoming more aware of this important tool to raise their concerns, where they know their care will be reviewed by independent clinicians," she said.



Jane Mahon believes using Ryan's Rule saved her daughter Tilly's life. Pic Mark Cranitch.
Jane Mahon believes using Ryan's Rule saved her daughter Tilly's life. Pic Mark Cranitch.

Little Matilda Mahon desperately needed to get to Melbourne for lifesaving surgery and - after Ryan's Rule was invoked by her parents due to delays in transporting her south - she was on a flight within 48 hours.

Her mum Jane Mahon said she could not fault the care two-year-old Matilda - who was suffering from the rare condition, Vein of Galen malformation - had received at the Queensland Children's Hospital, but felt compelled to use Ryan's Rule after her transfer to Melbourne was delayed.

"I can still vividly remember being across the road from the hospital in a cafe and phoned to invoke it," she said.

"One of the doctors that turned up within five minutes of me invoking Ryan's Rule was one of Tilly's paediatricians. We just said to them the care is fantastic, but the urgency of her case isn't being met and isn't being listened to."

Ms Mahon believes invoking Ryan's Rule got the ball rolling and sped up the process of Tilly's lifesaving surgery.

"The next thing we knew is she was going to be put on a care flight and she was off to Melbourne within 48 hours of that phone call," she said.

"I was so happy with the response, and after that we had a follow-up phone call from the hospital to ask us if we were satisfied with the outcome and we really were because she was in Melbourne at that stage and that's what we needed for her."

A Queensland Children's Hospital spokeswoman said Children's Health Queensland was the first hospital and health service in the state to implement Ryan's Rule, giving families the emergency tool to escalate concerns they have for their loved one's care.

"Ryan's Rule recognises that families know their child better than anyone, and empowers them to raise concerns via an easy three-step process," she said.

"CHQ is committed to working with families and we value the vital role they play as a member of their child's care team. The goal of the partnership is always to deliver the best and safest outcome for a child."



Melissa Kearney invoked Ryan’s Rule over knee surgery. Picture: Steve Vit
Melissa Kearney invoked Ryan’s Rule over knee surgery. Picture: Steve Vit

QUEENSLAND mum claims that when she invoked Ryan's Rule over her knee surgery she was simply told that her relationship with her surgeon had "broken down".

Melissa Kearney, from Rockhampton, said her knee constantly dislocates causing severe pain and required her to be driven by ambulance to hospital six times in 10 days.

The mother-of-five said her surgery at Hervey Bay Hospital was postponed twice.

"I asked for it to become an emergency surgery, so basically that would mean I stay in hospital until they could fit me in, and the surgeon said he didn't feel as if I was an emergency," she said. "That's when I (invoked) Ryan's Rule … I just wanted a second opinion on whether it was an emergency."

Ms Kearney claims another surgeon said her relationship with her surgeon had "broken down".

"It very much felt like a burden, invoking Ryan's Rule," she said. "After a lot of tears and phone calls, I asked them to be referred to Rockhampton."

Wide Bay Hospital and Health Service chief executive Adrian Pennington said the hospital was among the best in the country when it came to elective surgery and specialist outpatient waiting times.

"Ms Kearney received her initial elective surgery appointment promptly, but regrettably it had to be rescheduled on two occasions - one of which was due to another patient requiring emergency treatment," he said.
"We acknowledge and apologise to Ms Kearney for the inconvenience of rescheduling her surgery."

He said Ms Kearney was still within her clinically recommended waiting time when she invoked Ryan's Rule.