Legal action launched against NT GPs over teen’s suicide
NT teenager Sabrina Di Lembo would have turned 22 this week. Instead, Maurice Blackburn is launching legal proceedings in the Supreme Court on behalf of her family to help raise awareness of the treatment of mental health patients by certain general practitioners in the top end.
This matter was the subject of a coronial inquest in October 2018. Judge Greg Cavanagh found that Sabrina, 19, took her own life in August 2017 after GPs at Parap’s Tristar Medical Group failed to take a detailed medical history, use proper mental health assessment tools, or take adequate notes of consultations with her.
One of the GPs, Kara Britz, also prescribed medication at half the recommended therapeutic dose, which the inquest was told meant she was likely to have been dealing with the medication’s side effects without getting the benefit of what had been prescribed. In addition, Sabrina was never referred to a psychiatrist who would have been more qualified to manage and treat her symptoms.
Medical negligence lawyer Kirsten Van Der Wal said several of Sabrina’s family members were suing doctors Britz and Bernard Westley at the clinic, as well as the NT Government, which oversees the mental health service that was also involved Sabrina’s care.
She said the family was seeking damages to raise awareness of what happened, hold the medical practitioners involved accountable, and ensure that no other family lost a loved one to suicide.
“It is alleged that Sabrina’s death could have been prevented had she have received appropriate medical assessment and care by these GPs, particularly if she had been referred for specialist psychiatric treatment,” Ms Van Der Wal said.
Sabrina’s parents, Lidia and Michael, have become advocates for improved medical care for mental health patients since their daughter’s death.
“Sabrina fell through the cracks because of a ‘scatter gun’ approach by those treating her, and because of this, we’ve lost our kind-hearted, loving, respectful and gracious daughter forever,” Lidia said.
“GPs play such a critical role in the treatment of people who are suffering from complex mental health conditions, so since we lost Sabrina, we’ve continued calling for more appropriate training of doctors and other health practitioners so they become more compassionate, understanding and aware of when they need to escalate patients to see psychiatrists, who specialise in these conditions. This is even more acutely important when treating adolescents,” she said.
“Had this occurred in Sabrina’s case, and had the practitioners followed a more integrated approach towards her treatment, we believe it’s likely she would still be with us today.”