Wednesday 16 January 2019

Family settles case against HSE for €37k following death of mother brutally killed by fellow patient

Maria O'Brien's son Patrick Hally (inset) and St Otteran’s Hospital in Waterford. Photo: PJ Browne
Maria O'Brien's son Patrick Hally (inset) and St Otteran’s Hospital in Waterford. Photo: PJ Browne

The HSE has issued an apology for the “failings” in care which led to the death of a woman who was fatally stabbed by another patient while she was a long-term resident of a unit on the grounds of a psychiatric hospital.

The apology was issued to the family of Maria O’Brien (55) from Waterford city, who was violently killed in St Otteran’s Hospital in Waterford in 2014. The family took a civil case against the HSE in relation to Mrs O’Brien’s death and the case was settled at Waterford Circuit Court on Tuesday.

Ms O’Brien had been a patient at St Otteran’s for several years and was living in a residential unit on the grounds of the hospital with three other people, including Paul Cuddihy, in September of 2014.

Mr Cuddihy (39) was found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity at the Central Criminal Court in 2016.

The court heard at the time that Maria O’Brien was stabbed more than 100 times on September 5 of 2014. Another resident of the unit and three nurses were also injured during the incident.

Mr Cuddihy, who was committed to the Central Mental Hospital following his trial, had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia some years prior to Ms O’Brien’s death. He was not taking his medication at the time of the incident, the circuit court heard.

David Bulbulia, barrister for Mrs O’Brien’s son Patrick Halley who took the case against the HSE, said the family had participated in an inquiry conducted by the HSE into his mother’s death. Mrs O’Brien had been a long-term psychiatric patient and there was no claim for income loss by her dependents.

“But they all suffered in different ways when they learned of the circumstances surrounding this very violent death at the hands of another patient of the hospital,” Mr Bulbulia said.

The claim was for €35,000, plus funeral, inquest and other expenses of €2,400, and the HSE had agreed to 100pc of the total of €37,400.

A letter written by HSE management to Mr Halley was read out in court on Tuesday: “The management and staff of St Otteran’s Hospital, Waterford, offer their sincere apologies for the failings in the care of your late [mother] Maria O’Brien, rest in peace, which led to her untimely and tragic death. We acknowledge the upset that this has caused to you and your family and wish you and your family all the best into the future.”

The settlement figure was approved by Judge Alice Doyle, with €7,000 to be paid to Mr Halley and each of his two siblings; €2,000 to each of five siblings of the deceased; €2,000 to the deceased’s step-mother; €1,000 to the deceased’s husband from whom she had been separated for over 20 years; and €250 to each of four grandchildren. Two siblings and a step-sibling had not wanted any part of the settlement.

Afterwards, Patrick Halley there was “a bit of justice done” by the ruling. “I do still feel there isn’t a whole lot of repercussions for the HSE with regard to it,” he said.

“I still think that the HSE need to re-evaluate the safety measures and safety protocols that are in place because I still don’t think that the safety measures are up to the standards that they should be. Also, the process if a patient is attacked by another patient or even if a staff member is attacked by another patient, there isn’t really a proper procedure in place for it.”

He described his mother as “a very vulnerable person” due to her illness, who wasn’t always shown the love she deserved.

“She was always a bubbly and happy person who nearly always had a smile on her face. She was a gentle, kind-hearted person who genuinely wouldn’t harm a fly, she was also a very caring person who would do just about anything she could for anyone.”

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