It took almost 48 hours for doctors to be made aware of Marion Kelly’s CT scan, which showed a bleed to the brain
The death of a Donegal woman was linked to “a breakdown in communications” among medical staff at Letterkenny University Hospital (LUH) which resulted in delays in responding to an abnormal CT scan, an inquest has heard.
A sitting of Dublin District Coroner’s Court was also informed that LUH had issued an apology to the family of the late Marion Kelly for the hospital’s failure to provide her with the appropriate standard of care.
The inquest heard it was almost 48 hours after the CT scan – which had revealed bleeding in the brain – was completed before doctors treating Ms Kelly were aware of its findings. Only then did they realise the seriousness of the patient’s condition.
The consultant physician responsible for Ms Kelly’s care at LUH, Amjed Khamis, admitted the outcome for the patient could have been different if doctors had been made aware of the results promptly.
Ms Kelly (64), a married mother of two of Back Street, Carrigans, Co Donegal, died at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin on November 5, 2019. She had been transferred there by ambulance the previous day.
A post-mortem examination confirmed that she had died from a ruptured aneurysm in an artery bringing blood to the brain.
The deceased’s daughter, Donna Kelly, told the inquest that her mother had been suffering from severe headaches for around a week before she was referred to the emergency department at LUH on November 1, 2019.
The inquest heard that a CT scan was ordered at 3.54am the following morning, which was a Saturday, and carried out at 11.43am.
Donna Kelly said her family became very concerned that Marion Kelly was confused and not eating over the weekend. They had asked doctors to review her condition on November 3, 2019.
Donna Kelly was subsequently called the following morning to say her mother was being transferred to Beaumont Hospital after the tests of the CT scan had been analysed.
“We are very hurt and angry that the CT scan was not read in a timely manner,” said Ms Kelly.
She recalled the last words she said to her mother were: “You’re not going to die, Mam.”
Dr Khamis told the inquiry that he had examined Marion Kelly at around 9.45am on November 2, 2019. She was on a trolley as the hospital was overcrowded at the time.
The consultant said he was aware a CT scan had been ordered for the patient but he had not been alerted to its results by the time he left the hospital at 2pm.
As he had not been contacted about it, he presumed there had been “non-significant findings” from the scan.
Upon returning to the hospital the following Monday morning, Dr Khamis said he was “shocked” when he found out about the findings of the CT scan, adding that it was an emergency case.
The consultant said there is “absolutely” better communications in relation to the handover of patients at weekends now.
He told counsel for Ms Kelly’s family, Doireann O’Mahony BL, that he did not know why she had been transferred to a gynaecological ward. He said it was “not unusual… if not ideal”.
The consultant radiologist who carried out the CT scan, Vladimir Koruncev, said he tried calling LUH’s emergency department a number of times once he had the results. However, he added that he was unable to establish which consultant was responsible for Ms Kelly or where the patient was located.
Dr Koruncev said the hospital was very busy and overcrowded at the time, with over 50 patients, and he had a lot of other duties.
He told the coroner that he would have called Dr Khamis if he had known he was responsible for Ms Kelly, but noted the hospital had “no clear communications strategy”.
The radiologist said he had presumed the results, which had recommended that Ms Kelly be reviewed by a consultant neurologist, had been read by one of the medical team looking after the patient.
Dr Koruncev admitted he felt personal responsibility and feelings of guilt about what happened, but stressed there was also “a huge failure with the system”.
A consultant neurologist at Beaumont Hospital, Stephen McNally, said Ms Kelly had to be intubated en route from Letterkenny after suffering what is now known to have been a third profound bleed in the brain.
Dr McNally said it was an unusual case as up to 80pc of patients die if they have a second bleed to the brain.
The consultant said it was unknown when Ms Kelly suffered the first bleed but it could have occurred when she first reported severe headaches. It is believed she suffered a second bleed on the morning of November 4, 2019.
He told the coroner, Cróna Gallagher, that he would have recommended the patient’s transfer to Beaumont on the basis of the results of her first CT scan on November 2, 2019.
The inquest heard that approximately one in three patients who suffer a bleed to the brain die, but the possibility of a second bleed could be prevented in up to 90pc of survivors.
However, Dr McNally said patients who suffered a third bleed were effectively “unsalvageable”.
Counsel for LUH, Luán Ó Braonáin SC, acknowledged that there had been shortcomings in the care provided to Ms Kelly by the hospital which had resulted in a “tragic consequence”.
Mr Ó Braonáin said the hospital was introducing improvements for alerting medical staff to critical test results.
He also stated at the outset of the hearing that LUH would not oppose any submission by Ms Kelly’s family seeking a verdict of medical misadventure.
Counsel for the Kelly family, Miriam Reilly, SC, said her clients had been comforted by the hospital’s approach to the inquest.
Ms Reilly said there had been “significant learnings” from Ms Kelly’s death for LUH, including new draft guidelines for how radiologists should alert other medical staff to critical findings from scans. She noted that this is at an advanced stage.
The coroner, Dr Gallagher, acknowledged that under the new draft guidelines, a consultant radiologist would be required to verbally notify the clinician responsible for the patient of a critical finding within 60 minutes of getting the test results.
Returning a verdict of medical misadventure, the coroner said she would endorse the proposed changes being made at the hospital.
In order to prevent future deaths, Dr Gallagher said she would also issue a recommendation for enhanced and ongoing mandatory training for staff involved in electronic and verbal communications of critical test results.
The coroner said she would particularly recommend the formalising of clinical handover procedures during out-of-hours and weekend periods to cover time-sensitive and critical tests.