SDHB apology for fatal foul-up with Queenstowner

SHARE

Health authorities have apologised “unreservedly” to the family of a Queenstowner who died in hospital after a medical foul-up. 

The Health & Disability Commissioner blames Southern District Health Board for the June 2008 passing of Kevin Stewart Thomas in Invercargill’s Southland Hospital. 

Thomas died of a heart attack after treatment for alcohol withdrawal – five months after being rocked by the sudden death of beloved wife Nicole. 

Last month, three senior SDHB hospital officials apologised to the Thomas family in writing: “We wish to unreservedly and sincerely apolo-gise that the care provided to your late brother did not consistently meet the professional standards required by our organisation. 

“We’re now aware that in regard to assessment and documentation of your bro-ther’s condition we did in fact breach our own policies which is inexcusable. 

“We regret this apology was not immediately forthcoming,” medical director Dr Alasdair Millar, nurse director Jenny Hanson and medical directorate boss Ian Winwood say. 

It comes after the hospital initially denied responsibility, stonewalling the Thomas family and provoking them into complaining to the Health & Disability Commissioner. 

Even after the commissioner’s adverse finding this January, SDHB took another two months to apologise. 

While there’s been no public inquest, Mountain Scene’s been told the coroner found Thomas died of cardiac arrest. Mountain Scene is unable to reveal more detail into the circumstances leading up to his death as a report on this remains private between the family and Health & Disability Commissioner. 

For years Thomas, an ace drummer, had backed entrants at Gore’s annual Gold Guitar Awards – one of his favourite gigs – and he headed there in June 2008. 

Thomas suddenly collapsed on stage and was rushed to Southland Hospital to be treated with diazepam – the generic name for Valium. Diazepam is a valuable drug, a longtime local GP tells Mountain Scene, with several uses including combating anxiety. 

However, it’s understood Thomas reacted badly to diazepam over two weeks in intensive care. Mountain Scene has sighted crucial passages from a report by Professor Carl Burgess of the Wellington School of Medicine & Health Sciences, who assisted the Health & Disability Commissioner. 

“It is therefore possible that what [Southland Hospital] clinicians were seeing was a paradoxical reaction to diazepam,” Burgess says. 

Health website medicinenet.com notes: “Rarely, diazepam causes a paradoxical [adverse] reaction with excitability, muscle spasm, lack of sleep and rage. Confusion, depression, speech problems, and double vision are also rare side-effects.” 

Prof Burgess: “There are alternative substances that can be used under such circumstances.” 

Thomas ended up on life support but died soon after his life support was discontinued. 

Yet Thomas needn’t have perished, Prof Burgess reports: 

“A change in treatment may very well have altered the prognosis of this patient.” 

A letter from acting Health & Disability Commissioner Tania Thomas to Thomas’ family in January thanks them for their “patience and dignity in your approach to this matter”. 

“While nothing you or I can do can change the past, I hope that knowing your questions have contributed to improvement for future patients at SDHB gives you some comfort.”

Friends of Queenstown drummer Kevin Thomas, told this week he’d died a preventable death at the hands of Southern District Health Board, share their memories of him:

NOEL COUTTS, fellow band member

“Kevin and I played together for 15 years.

“Drummer Steve Gadd gave Paul Simon rhythm, and I felt that was the same thing with Kev Thomas.

“I thought that he gave me rhythm and I thought it was a big honour to play with Kev because he was a f…ing good drummer, there’s no two ways about that.

“When I toured America with my kids, we’d go and see a lot of musicians and we’d always rate the drummer against Kevin, and we never saw anybody that we thought was a better drummer than Kevin.

“I thought he was one of the best in the world, I thought it was an absolute privilege to play with him.

“I’d write a song and I’d take it along to him and Kev would listen to me play it and then he’d put the groove in it.
“Kevvy was Kevvy, sometimes he could be a difficult little bugger but he was a loyal sort of a guy.

“You had your ups and down with Kev but we were always mates.

“We recorded probably five albums together.

“If I had one word for Kevin, I’d sum him up as a really loyal person.

“He was really loyal to [his wife Nicole] and he was really loyal to me, as a friend.

“He was a totally professional musician, he knew exactly what he was doing.

“He gave me permission to write music.

“The first time I played with Kev, I played in Arrowtown.

“I was a bit nervous about playing with Kev Thomas because it was the great Kev Thomas, as far as I was concerned.

“I said [let’s play] Brown Eyed Girl.

“He said, ‘No, I’m not playing it’, and this is on stage.

“He said, ‘I didn’t come out here to play f…ing Brown Eyed Girl, I came out here to play your own songs’.

“And I said, ‘They might not want to hear them’.

“He said, ‘Well, they won’t f…ing know if they don’t hear them, will they?’

“He made me play my own songs and encouraged me to play my own songs.

“I used to write a song and I’d take it to him and he’d critique it.

“Kev empowered me – that’s where my songwriting came from, I got the confidence, if that song’s alright for Kev Thomas, it’s f…ing alright for the rest of you.

“I think there was only one song he ever told me, ‘no, that’s bullshit, Noel’.

“I felt bad about his death because I wondered if I was around if I could have spent more time with him and eased him through it a bit, because he was certainly in pain.

“I wrote a song about him and said he died of a broken heart which is not far away from the truth.

“I was in London when I heard he’d died, I remember walking down by the Thames and I cried.”

BRIAN HARLEY, fellow band member

“I miss him for just his whole passion,

“He was passionate about everything, about his music, about his family, about whatever job he was doing at the time.

“There was always a level of intensity about his commitment to it.

“He’s still one of my favourite drummers in the world.

“I know for a fact that he was a great influence on a lot of drummers.

“He was definitely one of the best we’ve ever produced and one of the best groove players ever.”

ALEXA FORBES, former partner and fellow band member

“Kevin was one of the most talented musicians I’ve ever met in my life, he really was amazing.

“He was born in Waiouru to army parents, he lived in Raglan for a long time, and played in the Mudlarks with [rhythm and blues legend] Midge Marsden.

“I met Kevin in 1985, we were good friends before I moved in with him – we were together five or six years.

“I worked with him for about seven or eight years as a musician.

“Kevin was very much on the edge all his life.

“He was a super-super talent and he did have the temperament to go with it.

“He was incredibly sensitive.”

MIKE LEGGE, comedian

“I quite often think about Kevin and Nicole, when I’m out and there’s music.

“I often think of him playing at the Winter Festival.

“He encouraged me a lot when I was just starting out doing comedy, he was really supportive to me.”

JENNY BRYCE, friend

“He was just a happy, very very honest person, who in the end was put under so much pressure.

“He loved life, he loved Queenstown, he loved his music.

“One night at McNeills [now Dux de Lux] he played The Green Door for me and afterwards he said to me, ‘that’s the best I’ve ever played and I played for you’.

“He was just amazing.

“He got on the phone that night and through connections he managed to get through to [US singer-songwriter] Steve Earle’s manager about 3am and he told him he’d be coming to New Zealand.” 

See also: