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Hospital order review of protocol in wake of teen sexual assault case

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Guilty: Andrew O’Donovan had ‘schizophrenic tendencies’. Picture: Michael MacSweeney

Guilty: Andrew O’Donovan had ‘schizophrenic tendencies’. Picture: Michael MacSweeney

Guilty: Andrew O’Donovan had ‘schizophrenic tendencies’. Picture: Michael MacSweeney

AN IRISH hospital ordered a full review of patient admission protocols in the wake of an incident where a 17 year old female patient was sexually assaulted by an elderly man with mental health problems after he was placed in a ward bed right beside her.

Judge Seán O'Donnabháin, who imposed an 18 month suspended prison sentence on Andrew O'Donovan (63) for sexual assault, was scathing of Cork University Hospital (CUH) management and supervision over how the incident could ever have occurred.

The teenage victim, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, said she believed she should have been safe in hospital and not in any danger.

She has now demanded that the paediatric admission age be raised from 16 to 18 years. CUH confirmed a full review was launched in the wake of the shocking incident two years ago.

"Management at Cork University Hospital have noted the comments of Mr Justice Seán O'Donnabháin and wish to advise that following this incident a review of protocols for the admission of patients to hospital wards was undertaken," a spokesperson said.

"Factors such as accommodation, staffing and patient safety were examined as part of this review process.” The Irish Independent understands that two key elements of the review was the placement of male and female patients in close proximity on specific wards and the handling of patients with a history of mental health problems.

It emerged O'Donovan of Butler's Gift, Drimoleague, Cork had been treated for mental health problems for over 35 years. Cork Circuit Criminal Court heard that he had known schizophrenic tendencies as well as other mental health issues.

Both the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) and Cork GPs have expressed concern over the revelations in the case. Both stressed that it underlined the need for even greater staffing and ward bed resources in acute Irish hospitals.

CUH medical staff only became alerted to Mr O'Donovan sexually assaulting the teenage girl when his heart monitor suddenly shown elevated cardiac activity.

The 63 year old had been placed in a bed directly beside the 17 year old girl in a four bed ward. Three of the four people on the ward were elderly men.

The teenage girl had suffered life-threatening injuries in an accident. At 5am on May 14 2018, she awoke to find O'Donovan at the foot of her bed - and was unable to reach the alarm button overhead when he approached her bed and began to sexually assault her.

Judge O'Donnabháin warned it was "a very, very troubling case." "You have to question the management of the ward system at CUH that allowed a young girl to be placed in close proximity to a man who was known to have a history of schizophrenic tendencies and a long psychiatric history," he said.

The judge said the hospital management and supervision involved had to be queried - and warned that hospital management needed to "buck up."

Judge O'Donnabháin noted the incident was discovered when a nurse went to investigate why a heart monitor, being worn by 'Donovan as he awaited cardiac surgery, suddenly began displaying elevated cardiac activity.

The nurse thought O'Donovan might be having a heart attack. When initially confronted about the sexual assault complaint from the teen, O'Donovan claimed he was just attempting to shake hands with the girl to wish her well.

Detective Garda Caroline Keogh said the man initially denied the charge put to him, replying: “I did nothing to that girl, I just shook her hand.”

However, he pleaded guilty to a sexual assault charge when the case came before the Circuit Criminal Court last November. Det Garda Keogh said the young girl awoke at 5am to discover O'Donovan standing by her hospital bed.

O'Donovan queried her name before asking if she would like to go for a drink or the cinema? After examining her hospital name bracelet, he then began stroking her arm and then attempted to touch her outside her clothing.

When he stopped touching the teen, he said to her: "Promise me you will write to me?" The teen - who had been in a serious accident - was unable to reach the call bell.

However, O'Donovan's heart monitor displayed elevated cardiac activity and a nurse came to investigate minutes after the assault commenced.

She was then able to raise the alarm. "My mental health has been shattered by this," the girl told the court in a harrowing victim impact statement. "I was petrified and helpless. I thought I would be safe in hospital. I never thought I would be in any danger."

She said the incident had left her very afraid of older men - as well as being unable to sleep, traumatised and suffering panic attacks. Judge O'Donnabháin was told the defendant had a long history of mental health issues and his wife had only died last year.

He had no previous convictions and currently lives a very simple life in west Cork, largely keeping to himself and tending his animals. The judge imposed an 18 month suspended sentence.

Online Editors