Avoidable Death of Aboriginal Man in Custody Prompts Urgent Healthcare Reforms in NT

DARWIN, Australia – The Northern Territory coroner, Elisabeth Armitage, recently concluded that the death of a 37-year-old Aboriginal man known as Mr. Dooley, who passed away in police custody in 2022, was completely preventable. The tragic incident occurred due to a series of oversights in his medical care, ultimately leading to his demise at Royal Darwin Hospital.

Mr. Dooley, a member of the Maiyali community from Eva Valley in the Northern Territory, succumbed to a heart attack while receiving palliative care at RDH in October 2022. The coroner’s findings revealed serious deficiencies in Mr. Dooley’s care, acknowledging substantial shortcomings that contributed to the unnecessary loss of life.

During the investigation, it was revealed that health personnel at the prison failed to appropriately refer Mr. Dooley to a cardiologist in 2019, despite abnormal ECG results. Had he been referred at that time, it might have uncovered blockages in his arteries, potentially altering the course of events leading to his passing.

Furthermore, on several occasions leading up to his death, Mr. Dooley displayed alarming symptoms, such as vomiting, dizziness, and difficulty standing, which were not adequately addressed. Despite his deteriorating condition, there were significant delays in seeking medical assistance, ultimately resulting in a preventable tragedy.

The coroner’s report highlighted a series of systemic failings within NT Health, NT Corrections, and the NT Police Force that contributed to Mr. Dooley’s death. In response to these findings, the coroner recommended reforms and improvements within these institutions to prevent similar incidents in the future.

One of the key recommendations put forth by Judge Armitage is the establishment of guidelines for proper ECG management and enhanced access to interpreters and Aboriginal health workers for families involved in deaths in custody. These measures aim to not only address the failures that led to Mr. Dooley’s passing but also to prevent such oversights from occurring again.

The tragic death of Mr. Dooley serves as a stark reminder of the importance of upholding medical standards and providing timely and adequate care to all individuals, regardless of their circumstances. The recommendations made by the coroner underscore the need for systemic changes within the healthcare and law enforcement sectors to ensure the safety and well-being of all individuals under their care.