Meningococcal disease was suspected only 75 minutes before
Zachary Gravatt died. Photo / Supplied
A father who won the right to name health workers who
cared for his son before his death says "Zac will rest easier"
because the precedent-setting ruling won't be challenged.
The Auckland District Health Board last night said it would
not appeal against a High Court ruling that lifted the veil
of secrecy and allowed three nurses and a now-deceased doctor
who cared for Zachary Gravatt to be named.
The Medical Association had earlier said the decision was a
"dangerous precedent" but Zachary's parents said last night
it was a victory for open justice and freedom of speech.
Earlier, in 2011, Coroner Brandt Shortland had suppressed the
names of the four health practitioners - and a fifth whose
name remains banned from publication.
A medical student, Mr Gravatt died aged 22 at Auckland City
Hospital in 2009, at the height of the swine flu pandemic,
from blood poisoning and organ failure caused by
meningococcal C bacteria. He was suspected of having
influenza, and only 75 minutes before he died was
meningococcal disease suspected.
He died at 7.15pm on July 8, just over 15 hours after he woke
up with a fever and in extreme pain.
His father, Lance, who took the coroner's suppressions to
review at the High Court before Justice Christian Whata, said
it was not his intention that the health practitioners be
publicly named and shamed.
He and Mr Gravatt's mother, Jenny, felt "it's the last
dignity that those who cared for Zachary can give him after
he's died - to ... put their hand up and say, 'I was part of
the team that looked after Zachary on the day and it didn't
work out how we would have wanted it to work out and for
that, we are sorry'."
Mr Gravatt thanked the health board for deciding not to
appeal against the court ruling. "It means a lot to Jenny and
I and the family. I feel that Zac will rest easier.
"I think it's a brave decision from Justice Whata and one
that I think all New Zealanders should celebrate. Freedom of
speech and open justice have been reaffirmed by the High
Court and they apply to all New Zealanders equally."
There was medical evidence at Mr Shortland's inquest that the
true cause of Mr Gravatt's infection could have been detected
sooner had there been regular recording of his vital signs,
especially his blood pressure.
The coroner suppressed names because of the perceived risk
that the health workers could be subjected to unfair media
criticism, a form of punishment. This was despite his finding
that the delays in recognising and treating Son's last
dignity: Father wins right to name hospital carers
meningococcal infection were the fault of the health system
and the stress it was under, rather than individual health
He also argued that allowing the names to be published would
discourage other health workers from coming to New Zealand to
work and would undermine confidence in the health system.
But Justice Whata, in revoking four of the suppression
orders, said the coroner's emphasis, which he endorsed, on
systemic rather than individual failure "strongly mitigates"
any adverse impact of the facts of the case on the health
He also dismissed the coroner's deterrence-effect argument.
The board's chief executive, Ailsa Claire, said it was
disappointed by the court decision but had decided not to
"The current ruling provides clear guidelines so that we can
continue to support and protect our staff members, whilst
ensuring that our resources are allocated in a pragmatic way
to improve the health of the Auckland population."
A lawyer not involved in the case, Jonathan Coates, said
Justice Whata's ruling was an unequivocal reminder to
coroners that the presumption was for open justice unless
there were particular reasons to the contrary.
The health workers
Dr Peter Black (deceased), consultant in internal medicine.
Claire Child, emergency department charge nurse.
Emma Hill, assessing nurse/nurse educator.
Evan Gounder, clinical charge nurse, admission.