Woman (79) awarded €58,500 over fall in hospital while sedated

Margaret Fitzpatrick ‘no longer woman she was’ after fracturing spine in Mater incident

A 79-year-old woman  has been awarded €58,500 damages against the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital. Photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times.

A 79-year-old woman has been awarded €58,500 damages against the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital. Photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times.

 

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.

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.

Mr Jolley had told the court Ms Fitzpatrick had walked unaided into the Mater in April 2015 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, had initially attended court and given evidence from her wheelchair but was not present for the reserved judgment.

Her daughter Michelle said Ms Fitzpatrick was 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 said.

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 the 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.

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

Special monitoring

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, adding that there was no indication it was applied in Ms Fitzpatrick’s case.

The judge said Ms Fitzpatrick sued the Mater Hospital for 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, head of nursing in the unit, told the court he did not personally deal 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.

Mr 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 agreed with Mr Jolley that the woman’s attempt to do this suggested she had not fully recovered from the sedation.

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 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.