Friday 22 November 2019

'No longer the woman she was' - Pensioner (79) awarded €58,500 after fall in hospital

The Mater Hospital in Dublin
The Mater Hospital in Dublin

Ray Managh

A 79-year-old woman, who fell and fractured her spine when left alone and sedated in a hospital recovery unit, has been awarded €58,500 damages against the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital where the accident occurred.

Judge James O’Donohoe in the Circuit Civil Court today Thursday told barrister Matthew Jolley, counsel for Margaret Fitzpatrick, that his client was no longer the woman she was before falling after an uneventful endoscopic investigation.

Mr Jolley, who appeared with Mary O’Connell of Martin Moran Solicitors, had earlier told the court Ms Fitzpatrick, in April 2015, had walked unaided into the Mater but was now housebound following a long period in hospital.

“Instead of going home following a successful gastroscopy she had to be detained for almost a month in the Mater before transfer to the Orthopaedic Hospital in Clontarf for another three months,” Mr Jolley said.

Ms Fitzpatrick, of Casement Drive, Finglas, Dublin, had initially attended court and had given evidence from her wheelchair but was not in court today to hear Judge O’Donohoe’s reserved judgment.

Her daughter Michelle had earlier told the court her mother had been totally independent prior to the fall.  “I feared for her life when she was in Clontarf Hospital and I took her out of it. 

"She had been on morphine and I feared she might have a stroke,” she had told the court.

Judge O’Donohoe said today that Ms Fitzpatrick’s initial procedure had a good outcome but “tragically things changed for the worse.”

He said that while coming out of the sedation and having been given tea and toast in the day ward she had attempted to put on her shoes at her bedside and had fallen and fractured her spine.

She had been immediately x rayed and detained in hospital for some days and discharged to the Orthopaedic Hospital for weeks.

Judge O’Donohoe said she had a myriad of medical problems which necessitated hospitalisation in November 2014 after a fall at home rendering her at risk from further falls.  

He had heard on behalf of the hospital that prior to her endoscopy there had been no indication for special monitoring beyond the usual nursing practice.

“The usual nursing care practice required in these particular circumstances was to have the Mater Hospital Falls Prevention Plan implemented,” the judge said. 

“There is no indication that the prevention plan was implemented and applied in Ms Fitzpatrick’s case.”

The judge said Ms Fitzpatrick had sued the Mater Hospital in negligence for failure in their management of her, given her medical history. On the expert evidence tendered on behalf of Ms Fitzpatrick he found that the Mater had failed to adhere to their own falls prevention policy

“What speaks volumes to this court is that the ward nurse who attended the plaintiff was not called to give evidence,” he said.

Staff nurse Sean Connolly, nursing head of the unit, had told the court he had not personally dealt with Ms Fitzpatrick and had been at the nurse station when he heard a shout for help.  He found Ms Fitzpatrick lying on the floor.

Nurse Connolly said she had been wearing both of her slippers and had one of her slippered feet partly into a boot when he found her. 

He had agreed with Mr Jolley that the then 77-year-old woman’s attempt to do this would suggest she had not fully recovered from the sedation that had been administered to her.

Judge O’Donohoe said Ms Fitzpatrick suffered a horrific injury fracturing her spine and requiring further hospitalisation as an inpatient at Clontarf Hospital.  She was now required to use a lumbar brace and zimmer frame for walking.

“She is a remarkable woman and clearly very resilient but put simply she is not the woman she was according to her daughter who gave evidence,” he said.

Barrister Paul McGinn, who appeared with Mason Hayes and Curran Solicitors for the Mater, was granted a stay pending consideration of an appeal to the High Court but was told that because of Ms Fitzpatrick’s age there would have to be a pay-out to her of €30,000.

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