Grieving family distressed after hospital returned dead man's belongings in rubbish bag
A grieving family who lost their father were distressed after hospital staff returned his belongings in a plastic refuse bag - with the slippers he wore when admitted on top.
The insensitivity is highlighted in a new report on end-of-life care by Ombudsman Peter Tyndall, who also heard from other bereaved relatives who were told by doctors of a loved one's "demise".
Another was informed her father was found "pulseless".
And a family were left upset after being told a patient's condition was "incompatible with life".
Launching the report yesterday, the Ombudsman said he found improvements in end-of-life care since his last investigation four years ago.
But there are still cases where there is a lack of compassion and consideration for dying patients and relatives.
He said: "Every year, 29,000 people die in Ireland and up to 290,000 are newly bereaved."
While the complaints he receives about end-of-life care are relatively low, each is unique and provides valuable insight into people's experience at this vulnerable time.
Almost all complaints to his office feature some element of poor communication as an aspect of the grievance. This is particularly true of complaints about end-of-life care.
"Good communication is about taking the time to explain what is happening, to keep people informed and to answer questions or concerns in a sensitive and empathic way," said the Ombudsman.
He referred to a survey of bereaved relatives carried out by St James's Hospital and the Mater Hospital in Dublin last year.
A key finding related to difficulties faced by terminally ill patients needing hospital admission who had to go through A&E.
Relatives asked that dying patients be admitted directly to a ward and this is now being followed as "resources allow".
Others identified the importance of a dying patient being given a single room.
Nearly one in five were not told they could visit the patient outside normal hours, while a significant number also pointed to the need to be involved in decision-making about the patient.
Mr Tyndall said the "handover bag" was introduced by the Irish Hospice Foundation some years ago to allow the dignified return of the deceased patient's belongings.
It followed a complaint to him about how relatives were given a loved one's clothing, along with plastic gloves and syringes, in a black rubbish bag to collect beside a Christmas tree.
Sharon Foley, chief executive of the Irish Hospice Foundation, said yesterday there is only one chance to get it right when a person is dying.
"A poor experience can leave a lasting negative impact on the family and make bereavement more difficult," she said.
She pointed to various initiatives, including the refurbishment of mortuaries and the development of a Patient Safety Complaints Advocacy Service.