A father's fight: Perth boy's life saving surgery delayed

Trevor Cochrane's son Harry has undergone surgery to remove a tumour from his brain.
Trevor Cochrane's son Harry has undergone surgery to remove a tumour from his brain.  Photo: Nine News Perth

UPDATED: If the parents of a child with a brain tumour have to create a fuss in the media to get a life-saving operation done, the WA health system is in even worse shape than previously thought, say doctors. 

Australian Medical Association WA president Andrew Miller said the situation faced by 10-year-old Harry Cochrane was unacceptable and amounted to a "lottery in the media for children's neurosurgery operations".

Garden Gurus presenter Trevor Cochrane went public with his fight to access life saving brain surgery for his son, Harry, after his procedure was delayed.

Harry has been diagnosed with a brain tumour which is growing rapidly.
Harry has been diagnosed with a brain tumour which is growing rapidly.  Photo: Nine News Perth

Mr Cochrane told Nine News Perth on Wednesday morning his son had a two centimetre tumour in his brain, which had grown a further two millimetres in the past ten days.

Harry was due to have surgery on Monday, but at the same time the surgery was due to start, a registrar told the family the surgeon was too fatigued to carry out the eight hour procedure. The Health Minister came out and said he would ensure Princess Margaret Hospital made the operation a priority.

"If in Western Australia we have got to the state where you need to jump up and down and go to the media in order to have your child's brain tumour removed then clearly the situation at Princess Margaret Hospital is even worse than the Australian Medical Association has been saying," Dr Miller said.

"We don't have the bed capacity, we don't have the surgical capacity, we don't have the nursing capacity to run a first-world health system currently at Princess Margaret Hospital.

"We cannot have a lottery in the media for children's neurosurgery operations. Clearly the capacity at the hospital is wrong.

"We are not in the flu season at the moment, we are not in the busiest period. There is no excuse for this.

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"Has anyone been delayed to allow this surgery to be brought forward to early next week? If so, what is that family's story?"

Dr Miller said the AMA had been warning for a long time that bed capacity was too low in WA.

"Until there is an injection of resources, so we can get up to the same number of beds for the population that they have in other states, then we will continue to see people who urgently need treatment missing out and that is not acceptable," he said. 

Harry's father said the surgeon cancelling the operation because of fatigue was the right decision to make at the time.

But the family soon learned there were only two surgeons able to carry out the operation Harry required and the next earliest appointment was nearly four weeks away.

"[Harry] can't be seen again until 26 June," Mr Cochrane said.  

"The reasoning we were given at the time is the surgeon is only in surgery once every 10 days.

"We were told that there's not a sufficient amount of funding to be able to conduct more than that surgery."

Mr Cochrane said a surgeon conceded to the parents on Tuesday that "we really need to get that tumour out as quickly as possible" but that the hospital did not have the resources.

"It's terribly alarming," he said.

PMH executive director Michelle Dillon said the surgery had now been rescheduled to take place on Monday and no surgery had been cancelled to allow for this. 

"This is high risk surgery undertaken by highly specialised paediatric neurosurgeons; there are only a very limited amount of people who possess the skills to do this type of surgery," she said.

"The surgery was postponed on Monday due to the number of beds available in our intensive care unit, we had an unseasonably high number of patients requiring high level critical care in our ICU.

"By the time a bed became available it was the decision of the surgical team that this highly complex surgery could not safely be started that day. This surgery is very complex and takes a period of six-eight hours and requires a large group of specialist clinicians.

"Patient safety is our priority and we have to ensure we have the clinical skills and post-operative care in place. On occasion, we have peaks in demand that we just cannot foresee."

Harry was diagnosed with a brain tumour in the pineal region of the brain about six weeks ago after experiencing vomiting, headaches and double vision.

"He's an unbelievably brave little boy," his father said. 

Health minister Roger Cook made a statement to Radio 6PR on Wednesday morning. 

"I'm sorry to hear about the distressing situation this family finds themselves in," he said. 

"I will be holding discussions with the hospital executive today to ensure this case is made a priority."