Walter Uhl’s hand trembles uncontrollably as he draws a line across his throat and describes how he wanted to end his life after losing a leg to an infection.
The 78-year-old was moved to share his harrowing story after The New Daily this month exposed claims of negligent treatment from former patients of Victoria’s Mildura Base Hospital, and fears of under qualified doctors, oppressive working conditions and overworked staff.
The New Daily can now reveal that a Victorian Department of Health community survey has found almost 90 per cent of Mildura respondents said they’d prefer to have MBH managed by the government rather than operated by Ramsay Health Care.
The state government is considering the future of the hospital – owned by the government but privately run by Ramsay Health Care – amid a push by residents for the facility to move away from a for-profit management model.
Victoria’s Health Minister Jenny Mikakos on Monday night said the hospital was being “carefully” reviewed.
“Patient care must always be paramount and Mildura families deserve the very best of care, close to home, when they need it,” Ms Mikakos told The New Daily.
“We are carefully reviewing the future of Mildura Base Hospital, which was privatised by a Liberal-National government in 1998, with the contract again renewed by the former Liberal-National government.”
Mr Uhl, who has no family in Australia and remains alone in a Melbourne rehabilitation ward hundreds of kilometres away from his community, is just one of many patients to come forward over fears for patient safety in his home town.
Once an avid traveller, Mr Uhl now can’t even walk on his own.
“I was always active – mountain climbing, scuba diving and snow skiing. Now I have to learn how to go to the toilet with one and a half legs,” he said, tears welling in his eyes.
The former mechanical engineer blames the treatment he received at MBH for the horrific sequence of events that cost him a limb.
Ramsay Health Care has confirmed it is investigating Mr Uhl’s case.
Mr Uhl said he called himself an ambulance two months ago when he came down with a high fever.
Wracked with shivers and sweating profusely, Mr Ulhl was transported to MBH.
To his surprise, he said, doctors diagnosed him with a lung infection.
Mr Uhl said the news came just a few days before he was due to fly to Melbourne at his own expense to have a large abscess on the bottom of his right foot treated at The Alfred hospital.
But, he said, MBH doctors would not allow him to leave. Meanwhile, his right foot started swelling.
After two weeks at MBH, Mr Uhl said his foot had doubled in size and a surgeon finally cut open the abscess in an operation he originally organised to have at The Alfred.
Mr Uhl claims his wound was not stitched up, but rather it was wrapped in a bandage.
The pensioner said he watched the bandage soak with blood each day, and flies would land on his foot.
“I could not even shoo them away,” Mr Uhl recalled, adding that the grisly routine continued for about two weeks.
Eventually, Mr Uhl said, he developed a bone infection and was flown to the Royal Melbourne Hospital.
He said the surgeon there told him they had no choice but to amputate.
At that point, he said, “I was ready to kill myself”.
Before his horror experience, Mr Uhl was an avid traveller.
His 30-year career as an engineer in Austria took him around the world to countries like Ethiopia, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Libya and the Philippines.
He arrived in Australia in the late 1980s and thought it was the most forward-thinking country he’d visited. He begged his wife of 28 years to join him, but she refused.
Eventually, they divorced and Mr Uhl has never returned home to Austria, where his three children and six grandchildren still reside.
Despite living in Australia for more than 30 years, Mr Uhl said he now has little choice but to return to Austria and live with his 50-year-old son – the only person who can accommodate him.
Before then, Mr Uhl must learn to walk again using a prosthetic limb.
After The New Daily made inquiries to Ramsay Health Care, a spokesperson confirmed MBH was investigating Mr Uhl’s case.
The Royal Melbourne Hospital declined to answer The New Daily’s questions about his experience, despite receiving Mr Uhl’s signed consent to discuss his case.
Ramsay Health Care last week declared it would allocate $13 million to MBH over 10 years if the Victorian government extended the company’s contract to continue managing the regional hospital.
Privatising public hospitals has consistently failed Australian communities over the past two decades, David Hetherington, a senior fellow at think tank Per Capita and chair of the People’s Inquiry Into Privatisation, told The New Daily.
Shadow Minister for Health Georgie Crozier said: “(Victorian Premier) Daniel Andrews must provide certainty to the community about the future operation of the Mildura hospital and ensure that neither the services provided, nor outcomes for patients, decline.”
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