Damning Ombudsman Report Reveals Dangerous Failures In Bamaga Hospital Care – six-year-old Torres Strait Islander boy died after being sent home with Panadol five times

Sydney, Australia – Monday 24 August 2020
Image above: Charlie (left), his mother Xernona and brother Richard (Supplied by family)

First Nations people should be aware that this article contains the name and image of a child who has died. His name and the image are used with the permission of the family.

The tragic death of six-year-old Charlie Gowa has been investigated by the Queensland Office of the Health Ombudsman (OHO), with damning findings released today. In early January 2017, Charlie woke up very ill and his parents were so worried that his Mum, Xernona, took him to the hospital to get him help. They were sent home with just some Panadol and an ice-block.

That night, Charlie got sicker. He was having trouble breathing, was vomiting without having eaten, and his skin was burning so much that he would get irritated if his Mum touched him. They went back to the hospital
the next day but were given Panadol and sent home again.

They visited the hospital every day for six days, until Charlie was finally admitted, but by the time he got the help he needed, Charlie was already too sick. His parents made the heart-breaking decision to turn off
his life support, nine days after they first asked Bamaga Hospital to help Charlie.

The OHO report makes it clear that what happened to Charlie was the tragic culmination of widespread systemic issues affecting Bamaga Hospital and Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service (TCHHS). Despite most people in the region identifying as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, the services there were not culturally appropriate to serve the community.
Charlie’s father, Ron Gowa, wants people to know what happened to his little boy so things can change: “I want justice for my little boy. I also want change. Our community needs access to safe healthcare, just like
any Australian community does. No family should fact the barriers that we faced in trying to save our son.”

The National Justice Project is representing the family in their efforts to secure justice for Charlie and meaningful improvements in access to healthcare for the community. For the rest of NJP’s media release on this tragic systemic failure and the comments of the OHO report, see our full media release here.