Dunedin child’s death at centre of $500k claim

A Dunedin mother is seeking damages of more than $500,000 after her daughter died following substandard medical care.

Hineihana Sosephina Mausii was discharged by doctors at Dunedin Hospital twice in two days and diagnosed with a viral illness, but within hours of the second visit she was dead, weeks short of her third birthday.

A post mortem found she had acute myeloid leukaemia.

More than eight years later, her mother Tracey Elvins — who spent 17 years with her former partner trying for a child — is still fighting.

“It sounds like a s*** thing asking for money but it’s not really. I had to survive and my mum helped me to do that. She fronted up with so much money for me.”

Documents filed with the High Court in July, as well as papers filed in response by the Southern District Health Board (SDHB), reveal Elvins is seeking $500,000 in damages, nearly $20,000 to cover Hineihana’s funeral and headstone, and costs.

“The defendant owed the plaintiff, as Hineihana’s mother, a duty of care to ensure that she did not suffer a psychiatric illness through nervous shock if Hineihana did not receive the expected standard of care,” the statement of claim says. It was opposed by the health board, which wrote off much of the claim as “speculative” and argued the legal action should be set aside as it was out of time.

The first hint Hineihana was unwell came a week before her death when she developed a cough and runny nose. On September 26, 2013, she was kept home from preschool, lost her appetite and was feverish.

A trip to Dunedin Hospital the following morning resulted in a discharge several hours later and a request for follow-up by the paediatrics department that never came.

The next night Hineihana’s condition deteriorated but a consultant looked at her across the emergency department and considered her fit to be sent home.

Later, two lower-ranking staff members admitted they had concerns about the decision but felt unable to raise them.

Hineihana went into respiratory arrest the next day and resuscitation attempts were unsuccessful.

A Health & Disability Commissioner investigation in 2016 found a multitude of failings which were later accepted by Coroner Brigitte Windley.

She endorsed a range of measures SDHB had put in place to address the shortcomings.

“The plaintiff has experienced intense grief and suffering. She has lost her purpose in life .. The plaintiff blames herself for Hineihana’s death. She reproached herself for not questioning the decision of the medical staff to discharge Hineihana on September 28. She is haunted by the fact Hineihana’s death was avoidable,” Elvins’ statement of claim said.

The case is set to be called before the High Court in February.

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