herald

Wednesday 26 September 2018

Patient (79) who fell and fractured spine at Mater wins €58k

The court heard Margaret Fitzpatrick is now housebound following a long period in hospital. Photo: Collins
The court heard Margaret Fitzpatrick is now housebound following a long period in hospital. Photo: Collins

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 in the Circuit Civil Court.

Judge James O'Donohoe 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 at the Mater Hospital.

Mr Jolley had earlier told the court that in April 2015 Ms Fitzpatrick 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," he said.

Morphine

Ms Fitzpatrick, of Casement Drive, Finglas, Dublin, had previously given evidence from her wheelchair but was not in court to hear the reserved judgment.

Her daughter Michelle had earlier told the court that her mother had been totally independent before the fall.

"I feared for her life when she was in Clontarf Hospital and I took her out of it," she said. "She had been on morphine and I feared she might have a stroke."

Judge O'Donohoe said Ms Fitzpatrick's initial procedure had a good outcome but "tragically things changed for the worse".

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

She was X-rayed and detained in hospital for some days before being discharged to the Orthopaedic Hospital.

Judge O'Donohoe said Ms Fitzpatrick had a myriad of medical problems which necessitated hospitalisation in November 2014 after a fall at home rendered her at risk from further falls.

He had heard on behalf of the hospital that before her endoscopy there had been no indication of special monitoring beyond the usual 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, alleging negligence for failure in its 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 its 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 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 her lying on the floor.

Nurse Connolly said she had been wearing both of her slippers and had one of her slippered feet partly in a boot.

Horrific

He agreed with Mr Jolley that Ms Fitzpatrick's attempt to do this suggested she had not fully recovered from the sedation.

Judge O'Donohoe said Ms Fitzpatrick suffered a horrific injury and now needed 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 for the Mater, was granted a stay pending an appeal to the High Court but was told that because of Ms Fitzpatrick's age there would have to be a pay-out of €30,000.

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