Wednesday 22 March 2017

Leading hospital was preparing to do unnecessary spine operation on wrong patient with same name - Ombudsman report

Separately, woman who reported mother's death told she faced €105,000 bill

Brian Hutton, Press Association

Ombudsman Peter Tyndall
Ombudsman Peter Tyndall

ONE of Ireland's top hospitals was preparing to carry out an unnecessary medical procedure on a woman's spine after mixing her up with someone of the same name, a watchdog has revealed.

Beaumont Hospital blamed "human error" for the mistake and has since overhauled its faulty system for identifying patients due for medical treatment as a result of the blunder.

The details only came to light after the woman involved complained to the Ombudsman Peter Tyndall that the hospital didn't take her seriously when she "persistently" told them they had the wrong person.

The Ombudsman is charged with investigating complaints from people who feel they have been unfairly treated by government departments, the Health Service Executive (HSE), local authorities, An Post and other public bodies.

In its latest annual report, the public services watchdog said the woman was telephoned by Beaumont Hospital and asked to come in for a lumbar puncture.

The 45 minute procedure under local anaesthetic involves putting a needle into the lower spine to test for conditions affecting the brain, spinal cord or other parts of the nervous system.

The woman had just undergone treatment in another hospital and was "surprised" to be called for the procedure in Beaumont, where she had never before attended, according to the Ombudsman.

When she repeatedly queried the appointment, the "hospital did not properly answer her questions and she believed that it had failed to take her complaint seriously," the watchdog said.

"It was only as a result of persistent questioning by the woman that hospital staff agreed to investigate," the report adds.

"When the nurse obtained the file, it became apparent that the hospital had contacted the wrong patient."

Both women had shared the same forename, surname and year of birth.

The hospital has since agreed to tighten up its system for identifying patients.

In another gaffe flagged to the Ombudsman, welfare chiefs demanded more than 100,000 euro from a grieving daughter who contacted the Department of Social Protection to let them know her mother had died.

The government department demanded the woman repay 105,000 euro they said had been wrongly paid out over nearly a decade to her mother, who had suffered from mental health problems.

The payments were for the Widows Non Contributory Pension and State Pension dating between 2003 and 2012.

The Ombudsman said the decision was "unfair" and ordered an independent investigation which found medical evidence on the department's own files which showed the woman had been unwell for a number of years and would not have been fit to understand the complex payments system.

It also found welfare authorities had not carried out any review of their own into the payments since 2000, which would have alerted them to their own mistake.

Overall, there has been an 11% rise in complaints to the Ombudsman last year, up to more than 3,500.

Mr Tyndall said the rise was mainly due to 200 public bodies being added to his remit.

The Ombudsman is also working to resolve issues with parents of school leavers and seeking assistance under the RACE scheme and applying for college grants respectively.

His office is working closely with SUSI and the State Examinations Commission in this regard.

"Direct provision accommodation is an area where very vulnerable people are living in poor conditions under the care of the State and which has no independent oversight," the Ombudsman added in today's report.

"The Oireachtas PSOP Committee has called for the abolition of the direct provision system but in the meantime those affected should have the right to complain to my Office or to the Ombudsman for Children as appropriate.”

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