A Kimba family has been left in turmoil after vital surgery scheduled for their baby daughter's life-threatening condition was cancelled on Thursday without reason.
Emma Bone's daughter Willow was due to have a Nissen fundoplication procedure with a gastrostomy tube inserted in a procedure at the Women's and Children's Hospital (WCH) to assist with recurring apneoa episodes.
The episodes - with periods of not breathing, going limp and floppy - is believed to be due to aspiration and reflux, and an immature airway, her mother said.
The surgery would help the 10-month-old, who was born in April 2020 at 28 weeks and has had ongoing health issues.
Mrs Bone said she was told by hospital staff and the surgeon the reason the procedure did not occur was due to hospital budget cuts.
Willow spent the first 70 days of her life in the Flinders Medical Centre's neonatal unit and has currently been at the WCH for five weeks.
She has been fed via a tube for most of her life and has had multiple apneoa episodes.
Mrs Bone estimated that during their stay at the WCH it had happened at least 20 times, lasting from 30 seconds to three minutes, with Willow needing oxygen.
She has had multiple tests in the past five weeks and was due to have surgery on Thursday.
The family prepared for the surgery, including Mrs Bone's husband travelling from Kimba, and was told Willow would go to the high dependency unit (HDU) afterwards.
Willow was on the list for surgery and had appropriately fasted in preparation, however by early afternoon the family was told it would not be taking place that day.
"After some waiting the unit manager popped her head in and asked if anyone had been to speak to us, I said no, and she sat down and continued to say that there were issues with the HDU bed and they didn't in fact have anywhere for [Willow] to go," Mrs Bone said.
"We finally had a junior doctor come in after 3pm and say it would not be happening. He could not tell us why. He could not tell us when it would happen."
Mrs Bone said she was told beds were available, but no staff due to budget cuts.
"It is pretty difficult for us, we have got a very sick baby, we are six hours from home, we also have a three-year-old, and financially and emotionally it is very hard," she said.
"Willow can't go home until she has this surgery - it will improve her situation, but it may not stop it completely.
"She goes unconscious when she has these episodes, and we don't know what it means - one time she may not wake up."
The hospital's interim chief operating officer Jane Jennings said cancellations of surgeries did occur on rare occasions, but rejected claims it was because of budget constraints.
"It doesn't happen very often and that happened for Willow, where our intensive care unit was extremely busy and we had emergency presentations of children requiring that care, so we had to carefully consider what was the best situation for all children and that meant that we had to reschedule Willow's surgery," she said.
"This was not about budgets or money, this was about ensuring we provide safe, appropriate care for all our children.
"The staffing levels are within the enterprise agreement and there are times in all hospitals where activity is really busy and you have to triage and allocate your resources appropriately."
Mrs Bone said it was very difficult to have Willow fasting each day as they waited for the surgery to occur.
She said the family was told the surgery could not happen on Friday and that Willow would go on the emergency list from next Tuesday.
"This could mean that our little baby will have to fast every single day until they can take her, but due to budget cuts, we do not know when that will be," Mrs Bone said.
"She is only a little baby and to fast for multiple days over a period of time I think will impact her.
"We were told it couldn't happen on Friday, but were given no reason why."
Ms Jennings said the hospital expected to be able to provide Willow's surgery on Tuesday, but could not guarantee it.
Shadow Health Minister Chris Picton said it was a "disgraceful situation" that the operation would not go ahead.
"Those decisions as to whether an operation should happen should be on the basis of doctors and medical advice, not on ministerial budgets and accountants," he said.
"We need to make sure our vulnerable kids in South Australia get the care that they need and clearly that is not happening here at this hospital, because of these budgetary issues.
"This is a family who live in Kimba, a very long way from Adelaide, they've had to uproot their lives to come here and they are now faced with a situation of they don't know when this operation is going ahead, when their daughter is going to get the care and the surgery that she needs, and the surgeons say they want to provide as soon as possible."