Disabled patients' code urged after death of deaf man (60)

Sat, Nov 8, 2008, 00:00

A JURY has recommended that major changes be made in the way hospitals treat patients with disabilities after hearing how a 60-year-old deaf man died as he tried to walk 50 miles home.

An inquest in Galway heard how Seanie Flaherty was trying to walk home to Clifden in Connemara when he was knocked down and killed.

The inquest was told that Mr Flaherty, who was deaf and had a speech impediment, had been treated in University hospital Galway for a suspected broken arm in February this year.

He had been taken to the hospital from his home at Tullyvoheen in Clifden in a taxi organised by HSE West, but no arrangements were made to bring him home.

Solicitor JJ Mannion, who represented the Flaherty family at yesterday’s inquest in Galway, said Seanie was an extremely popular man who worked as a caretaker in a national school in Clifden.

Mr Mannion said that most people in the community in Clifden knew that Mr Flaherty needed assistance. He essentially lived in sheltered accommodation.

But Tony O’Connor, senior counsel for the hospital, said that while Mr Flaherty’s hearing difficulty and speech impediment were highlighted in a doctor’s referral letter, other limitations were not apparent.

Mr Flaherty fell while working in the national school and was referred to University College Hospital by Dr Susan Wilson in Clifden. She told the inquest she organised for a HSE taxi to collect Mr Flaherty at his house.

The inquest was told by taxi driver Danny Ryan that he brought Mr Flaherty to hospital. The arrangement was to bring him there and it was up to the hospital or the patient to organise transport home.

Mr Ryan said he dropped Mr Flaherty at the hospital and pointed out to him the reception desk he needed to check in at. The inquest heard that Mr Flaherty presented himself, was treated for a fractured arm and was asked to go to Merlin Park Hospital in the city the following morning to attend a fracture clinic.

The hospital was not aware of how he arrived at the hospital. If it was known that he had arrived there by HSE taxi, this would be attached to his file and transport home would have been arranged. But staff in the accident and emergency unit were unaware how he arrived and Mr Flaherty had told them he was okay for a lift home when asked.

But solicitor Mr Mannion said Mr Flaherty was the sort of man who would have said “yes” to nearly every question. Coroner Ciarán McLoughlin heard that Mr Flaherty, who he knew personally and had treated in the past, had never been in Galway city unaccompanied before.

The eight-person jury was shown CCTV footage which showed Mr Flaherty wandering around the hospital for an hour and a quarter after he was discharged.

He was last seen leaving the hospital shortly before 6pm on February 27th this year, walking in the direction of Clifden, some 50 miles away.

Mr Flaherty, who was wearing just a dark T-shirt and tracksuit trousers, asked directions of a number of people. He walked about four miles before he was knocked down and died instantly from severe head injuries.

Dr McLoughlin said it was clear that there was no procedure in the hospital for ensuring that a person with a disability would be brought safely home. He said the manner of his death had caused great upset to the Flaherty family and to the community in Clifden.

The jury asked that two recommendations be put in place: that the HSE create a set of guidelines for discharging patients under disability to ensure their safe return home, and that the HSE create a set of guidelines to be given to every taxi driver who brings a patient with disabilities to or from a hospital.